Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Great But's in the Bible

So a few years ago I heard Chuck Swindoll say that he wanted to preach a series titled "Great But's in the Bible", but he didn't think it would go over well in his church. Of course I could hear the laughter from the audience so I think it would fly!

Needless to say, now when I see a great "But" in the Bible it makes me chuckle a little bit. This Sunday I am continuing our study through Acts and lets just say I chuckled to myself when I read Paul's words, "But it happened that as I was on my way..." (Acts 22:6). Maybe not so funny in plain reading, but it caused me to laugh--even though this is no laughing matter.

Let's back up. Paul has been detained for his safety as the non-believing Jews were attempting to kill him. He is being taken up two flights of stairs to enter the barracks when he asks the soldier if he can speak to the crowd. The soldier allow this. Well, Paul then shares the history of his life in Judaism--his pedigree, education, zeal, and much more. But everything changed that fateful day on the road to Damascus when Paul met Jesus.

Elsewhere Paul wrote another great "but" in Ephesians 2:4. After describing our totally hopelessness in our sinful state he says, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ..."

Here Paul was living his very religious and righteous life thinking he was blameless according to the law (Phil. 3:6) yet he was totally dead (spiritually separated from God). All the while, God is relentlessly perusing Paul to redeem him from this death. There is a lady in the Old Testament that describes God's pursuit of us with beautiful imagery, "For we will surely die and are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not take away life, but plans ways so that the banished one will not be cast out from Him" (2 Sam. 14:14).

When was the last time you considered your own life in relation to God's pursuit of you? I ran and rebelled against God for years and years. Unfortunately it took a number of events that brought me to the place where I felt as though I was water that had been spilled on the ground--helpless and unrecoverable.

But God. Two of my favorite words: But God. He intervened in my life. He allowed me to stray so far in order that I might trust in Him. I am thankful for His patience towards me (as described in 2 Pet. 3:9). I don't like thinking about where I would be right now without the "But God" moment in my life, but I know that I am where I am only because of Him.

Maybe you haven't believed, but know that God is chasing after you in love. I pray that you would experience the "But God" moment in your life today!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Deciphering God's Will

We all make decisions. Some decisions are critical, some are benign. Some of the hardest decisions in my life have been the process of discerning God's will as I determine the direction I will go. A few of my decisions were in attempting some of these questions:

Should I marry Anna?

Should I buy this house?

Should I sell this house?

Should I leave the Navy?

Should I move to Valley Center to restart a dying church?

As I faced these questions, and others, I tried to follow a certain "flow chart" in trying to determine if God's will was backing my decision one way or another. Here is my flow chart:

1. Do I have peace about either answer?

2. Does the Bible speak directly about my particular situation?

3. Do those who are mature in the faith have wisdom to offer me?

Ideally, in reaching a decision I hope to find personal peace, biblical validation, and affirmation from godly counsel. But what happens when one can't attain unanimous support for a decision?

This Sunday I am teaching on a passage where Paul has made a decision, but lacks support from godly counsel. In Acts 19:21, Luke shares that, "Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem." Paul was certain this was the will of God as he later states, "I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me" (Acts 20:22-23).

Now this news is bad from a human perspective. Paul is bound for arrest, if not death. This causes his godly friends to react very sorrowfully. Check out a few of the reactions:

The elders in Ephesus "began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again" (Acts 20:37-38).

The disciples in Tyre "kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem" (Acts 21:4).

His traveling companions and local residents in Caesarea, "began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem" (Acts 21:12).

Wow, to go to Jerusalem or not to go? Both sides convicted the Spirit was leading them...what did this do to Paul? It tore him up. Read his reaction, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 21:13).

Paul's reaction finally get them to support his decision seemingly resigning that this was the Lord's will.

This whole story has caused me to ponder and reflect this week. Often, it seems, people believe God's will is the path with the most amount of blessing, or the path of least resistance. Clearly, this isn't always the case--and I would argue that God's will is often the more difficult path. In fact, this story sort of reminds my of the story of Jesus with the disciples in Matthew 16:21-27 as He begins to reveal His coming death. Peter reacted as many of Paul's friends reacted--ultimately provoking Jesus to tell Peter, or Satan, to get behind Him! This incident led Jesus to say these well known words, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24).

As I reflect on this passage, I am stirred to renew my commitment in following after Jesus. I realize God may ask me to follow Him in ways that may not seem like the best through an earthly lens. My prayer is that we who follow Him would not hesitate because of our fears or threats we face.

I am not sure that I have completed my thought here as I am getting tired, but I do have a few more days to process this passage.