Where is Your “Prison?”

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 23-24, 1 Chronicles 6, Psalm 54, and Acts 16.

Have you have had a dream or felt God lay it on your heart to do something specific and make a big change or take a big step in your life? Did you take that step only to find out things didn’t pan out like you expected? Maybe you moved to a new city to take a different job and then shortly thereafter you were laid off, or maybe you took the risk to start your own business…only to have the business not succeed. We may not have all had a dream or heard the audible voice of God tell us to do something but most of us have probably prayed about something or done something that just felt right only to have it not work out the way we thought it was intended. Here in Acts 16, we read about the same thing happening to the apostle Paul.

Paul had a dream telling him to go to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10). His traveling there seemed to make sense at first as shortly after arriving in one of Macedonia’s leading cities, Philippi, we are told on possibly the first Sabbath there, he was preaching to many women and a woman named Lydia was baptized (Acts 16:11-15). Can we relate to this feeling of things falling into place quickly when we take a risk, and we grow confident that we were correct in our interpretation of God’s prompting and plan for us with this being affirmation? However, things changed quickly for Paul and his preaching friend Silas. A slave girl who had to gift of divination and fortune telling followed them everywhere and was yelling continuously in support of them to the point that it was possibly a hindrance and Paul being annoyed commanded it to come out of her (Acts 16:16-18).  Now that her “gift” was gone, she was of no value financially to her owners and they were so upset that they had Paul and Silas beaten and thrown into prison (Acts 16:19-24).

At this point, what would you be thinking? For one, I would likely be scared. They were just beaten and wrongly imprisoned and Jesus who they preached about was just unfairly captured and beaten only to then suffer one of the cruelest deaths possibly dying on the cross. Would their outcome be the same? At a minimum, I would be questioning whether God was wrong, or I was wrong by coming to Philippi. You wanted me to preach the gospel God, but how can I be out preaching to people while I’m in these chains? We learn in Acts 16:25-34 what Paul and Silas actually did. They began to sing songs of praise to God…maybe similar to Psalm 54 from our reading today. Really? Praising God when I’m in prison?! Then, an earthquake came and their chains were broken and doors opened! Waking up and supposing everyone was gone, the jailer planned to kill himself before he was killed for not doing his job. But instead, Paul and Silas stayed there and shared to gospel with him and then traveled to his home with him to share it with his family leading them all to be baptized! Paul trusted in God and His purpose, regardless of his physical circumstance and environment, which led to others accepting Christ.

God’s plan for this journey didn’t stop there though. Not so ironically, I was supposed write this last week but our biblejournal.net was down. This Sunday on 5/5/24 at Eastview Christian Church, Pastor Steve Carter spoke about Acts 16 in his sermon (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1TFw-uEjwU). He shared this happened around 47-50 AD and then somewhere around 60-63 AD while Paul was imprisoned again in Rome, he wrote a letter to the people in Philippi which we now know as the book of Philippians in the Bible. This letter which may not have been written if Paul had not gone to Philippi and been imprisoned there has impacted millions, if not billions, over the last 2000 years. God cares so much of each one of us and our eternal souls that Lydia’s conversion to following Jesus alone would have been worth Paul’s travels to Macedonia, but because Paul remained faithful, that was just the start. We can see Paul’s trust in God’s plan and his past experience in Philippi echoing in his letter to them years later as we read it. In fact, check out Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” It is mind blowing the impact Paul has now had two separate times while in prison. What is your “prison” now or in the future where you can still make an impact on others and God can do a great work in and through you when you stay faithful to Him and His purpose?

Consider taking some time today to reflect on this, and also take a listen to this song called Holy Ground by Passion featuring Melodie Malone.


It’s Just Temporary..

Today’s reading is Micah 4.

In church this week our pastor talked about the Greek word Peter and Paul often used for the word “body” in their writings was skene. This word actual means tent or a temporary dwelling place. They chose that word because they wanted us to remember that our time on Earth is short and our soul is eternal.

Our reading today has Micah reminding us that while the world and the very ones Jesus came to save seems to reject the good news of the Gospel today, this will not always be the case. We see nations, our great nation even, trying to move farther and farther away from God. Again, thankfully it will not be this way forever.

Micah 4:1-2 states in the last days the house of the Lord will be lifted up and nations and people will flock toward the church rather than away from God. Micah 4:3 discusses there will be no more fighting and war, and in Micah 4:5, we will “walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.”

Our life may be tough right now. We have pain. We have problems. We have issues that won’t seem to go away. However, like Paul and Peter told us…our life…our body…is temporary. When Christ comes again and establishes His church on Earth, Micah 4:6 tells us he will gather those who were driven away, lame, and afflicted. God will reign over all and these challenging feelings and problems will no longer exist.

I pray that if you are reading this today and facing hard times Micah 4 can put things in perspective and bring you peace just like the words of Revelation 21:4.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Man of Sorrows

Most of us are familiar with the Disney classic Aladdin and the legend of a genie in a magic lamp granting 3 wishes to the person who finds and rubs it, especially with the recent remake and also the emergence of Disney Plus. If there were such a lamp and you were lucky enough to find it, what would you do if you had that much power? Even if you would use that power for something good to change the world and mankind, would it be the first thing you would do with your power? Would you ever even think of helping someone who had directly disobeyed you which hurt you deeply? Much like the fortunate person to find a lamp with a magic genie like Aladdin, God has all power. We know from Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve brought sin into the world by eating from the tree God told them not to and thus directly going against His one direction, God not only immediately provided for them through skins to clothe them (Genesis 3:21) when they realized they were naked only because of their sin, but He also immediately promised a Savior in Genesis 1:15 to help mankind defeat Satan and death and bring us back to Him.

Let me pose another question…..if you made a decision to help save someone who directly hurt you, would you be willing to go through much hardship and pain to do so if you could get the same result without it? God chose to save us and to take the pain upon His Son Jesus. He also chose to do so in the most humbling way possible. Through the prophet Isaiah, God tells us Jesus was a “man of sorrows” in Isaiah 53:3 who was despised and rejected.

Jesus came in to this world the son of a carpenter and young virgin, not a king and queen. Jesus and His family were rejected from the beginning, there was no room at the inn so he was born in a stable, not a castle, and placed in a manger, not a bed. As He became a man, we know nothing about His earthly home leading us to believe it couldn’t have been much. From Scriptures, we know He became hungry and thirsty. He felt the pain of losing a friend in Lazarus and cried. He was rejected by those in His own hometown. He was betrayed and given to the authorities to be killed by one of his 12 closest friends and followers, Judas. The remaining 11 then ran, abandoned Him, and hid when He was captured. One of His other closest friends and followers, Peter, denied he even knew Him. Then, despite seeing His mighty works and raising others from the dead, another of His closest friends, Thomas, refused to believe He was raised and had done what He said He would. In all of this, we have not even mentioned yet He was beaten and tortured to the brink of death and then was executed in one of the most gruesome and painful ways our world has ever known. No doubt He was a “man of sorrows.”

When we have a bad day, week, month, or are in some of the deepest valleys and toughest, most painful seasons of our life, we must remember we have a God and Savior who empathizes, knows, and cares about what we are experiencing because He experienced some form of the same pain. He didn’t have to, but He did. If we think we don’t deserve what we are going through, we can remember Jesus definitely didn’t deserve what He went through…all for us nonetheless. If we now think about the honor, power, and glory of Jesus, we might picture Him on a throne sitting at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, but we can be thankful while He was on this Earth…He was a “man of sorrows”…all for you and for me…so that our pain could be temporary and not eternal.

Living From Abundance

1 Thessalonians 2

Most of us go through life working hard, trying to get ahead.  We all define “getting ahead” differently.  Some strive for money, others look for more time, we even throw family into the mix.  We think that having more of this one thing will give us the life we dream of.  We think it will bring us abundance.  Sadly, it never comes.  In fact, the harder we chase it, the more elusive it becomes.  For example, our toil for more money never reaches abundance.  John D. Rockefeller confirmed it.  When asked, “how much is enough?”  He replied, “just one dollar more.”   The Apostle Paul, however, knew better.   Simply said, Paul worked out of his abundance, not for abundance.

In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul tells us how he works from abundance.  To start, he reminds us of his terrible sufferings and mistreatment.  How can that be abundance?  Obviously, Paul’s definition of abundance did not look like ours.  His definition sounds more like righteousness.  Now before you check out because you are not righteous, consider this.  Paul references the righteousness of Abraham in Romans 4:21.  He says that Abraham was granted it by having “no unbelief to make him waiver concerning the promise of God” and that he was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”  The result was righteousness.  Paul shared in God’s righteousness as well.  This righteousness is exactly what allows him to live abundantly in any situation.

When we are fully convinced, like Abraham and Paul that God is able to do everything he promises, we too will be able to live from abundance.  In fact, Jesus promises it specifically in John 10:10.  Like Paul, when we live in abundance, no adversity, no pain, no suffering or mistreatment will ever discourage or destroys us.


Is It Worth It?

2 Corinthians 11

What can I physically and emotionally endure? How much pain, stress, and anguish can I take? Well, probably not as much as Paul. He states in this chapter five times he received thirty-nine lashes by the Jews. Three times he was beaten with rods. He tells us here he was stoned which we remember from Acts 14. Stoning is intended to kill a person. Three times he was lost at sea and shipwrecked. He references threats from both his own people, the Jews, as well as the Gentiles, the Romans.

Let’s stop and reflect on that for a second. The two dominant groups at the time were the Romans who wanted to kill Christians for denouncing that Caesar was God and Jews who wanted to persecute Christians as well because they did not believe Jesus was the true Messiah. Both wanted Paul dead. He also references danger from the wilderness, hunger, thirst, the cold, and not to mention false brothers here. Whew! Quite the list!

Let’s revert to Acts 14 where Paul was stoned in Lystra for a moment. They dragged him out of the city thinking he was dead (Acts 14:19). He was not though, and we are told by Luke here in Acts that not only did he get up and go to Derbe to preach the next day, but when he was done there he went back to Lystra where he was just stoned! We are told in Acts 14:22 he was “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

I recently finished a great book which I highly recommend called What Is God Really Like? Each chapter is written by an all-star team of pastors. One pastor gives an analogy by asking the question whether you would tell a surgeon operating on a loved one to save their life to hurry up? I don’t know what you are going through right now, and it may be something very terrible and for that I am extremely empathetic and sympathetic so I hope this is not taken the wrong way. But, whatever pain and anguish Satan is causing you (because it is not God..see Romans 8:1), God is using that which Satan thinks is for his glory to positively shape your heart and soul into the person he wants you to become and to impact those around you. He is performing a delicate surgery in just the right amount of time to make it a perfect and successful one. Although God may not reveal the answer now or even in this lifetime, we must ask ourselves what God may be wanting to do in our lives and the lives of those around us through this to reveal his glory?  Let’s learn from Paul. Would you be ok with your present or future suffering if through it you could help just one person know Jesus and have eternal life in Heaven? If not one, what about ten people…or one thousand… or maybe even ten thousand people?

God is the supreme potter. He is shaping what looks like a mess of sloppy clay which is your life into his masterpiece. Have you ever looked at the backside of a beautifully crocheted piece? It looks like a huge jumbled mess with colors in the wrong places and different size strands hanging off of it everywhere. This is how we see our lives and how Satan wants us to see it. Flip over that crocheted piece, and what do you see? Again, it is a perfect picture, a masterpiece. THAT is what God sees because he sees our entire life and the lives of those around us.

Ultimately, all we can do in tough times is go back to the only truth that exists and that is the Word. Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for the good of those who are called according to his purpose.”  I don’t know what pain and suffering I, or you, may go through in this life and quite frankly I don’t want to think about it. Jesus tells us not to worry about it (Matthew 6:34). But, I know one thing, my life here on Earth of somewhere between 33 and hopefully 80 to 100 years is like one grain of sand amongst all the beaches of the Earth when compared to the length of eternity. Romans 8:18 tells us, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” A week ago we read 2 Corinthians 4:17 which says, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” I struggle with this like most, but I am growing to try to enjoy the precious present of each day, and I am extremely grateful for Jesus’ saving grace on the cross. When we see his face and spend eternity with him and others who the Holy Spirit helped be saved through our earthly lives, there will be no doubt to the answer to the question, was it worth it?