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Archive for December, 2010

Acts 17 Snippets

Acts 17 caused me to wonder about a number of things:

‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 17:28

  • In Athens, Paul quotes some non-Christian “thinkers” of his day, demonstrating that he was relevant, a student of the culture.  Nevertheless, let’s be clear: Paul majored in Jesus, but minored in knowing the culture. My fear today are many well-intentioned Christian workers who major in the culture, but minor in the Gospel and God’s Word.

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“… by raising Him from the dead.”  17:31

  • Over and over in his evangelistic presentations, Paul emphasizes the resurrection of Jesus.  Just read the book of Acts and it becomes obvious.  Why, seemingly, do we neglect this aspect of the Gospel, when it was front-and-center to the early Church’s Gospel message?

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Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed…  17:32-34

  • When we declare the gospel, we should expect 3 responses that mirror Paul’s experience in Athens:  some jeer, some consider, some join.  Let me not lose heart, O Lord, by those who jeer and those who delay.

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If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened…”

Psalm 66:18

Cherished sin.  You know, hold it close.  Run to it, when no one else is looking.  Finesse it, instead of finish with it.  Let it linger, for future access.

Cherished sin.  It belies half-way or partial consecration.  You know, stop watching certain movies without throwing the dvds (or Cable Box) away.  But, is partial consecration a self-refuting exercise?  To be partial means to not be consecrated, doesn’t it?  At the end of the day, do I view my consecration to Jesus to be like the Dimmer Switch of a light (with a continuum of various intensities, all acceptable) or like an On-Off Switch (that immediately conveys whether He is my Lord or not)?

In other words, does cherished sin merely decrease the intensity of my light (dimmer switch), or does it break the circuit of electricity entirely, turning out the light? (on-off switch)

I wrote these words in my journal the other day re: Psalm 66:18:

“Let this verse be a warning to me and to all Christians I’m called to influence: Perhaps God isn’t ‘listening’ to my verbiage as my heart glows incandescent for other idols, other interests, other rivals, other sources of life and sizzle and excitement?  Perhaps my prayers are wasted time until my heart is newly consecrated?  Perhaps, as an example, “Christian concerts” are so sought after by youth because they provide a temporary ‘euphoric counterfeit’ for the combination of thrill and tranquility that God offers us daily, by being wholly consecrated in His Holy Presence?”

Cherished sin.  God not listening to us.  Consecration.

I suspect my/our need for re-consecration is validated in Romans 12:1:

“Therefore I urge you, my brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to OFFER YOURSELVES (i.e. re-consecrate self) as a LIVING sacrifice to God, wholly and acceptable to Him, which is your reasonable act of worship…”

Someone cleverly commented that “a LIVING SACRIFICE  can keep crawling off the altar.” Yes, but I will fight to stay on that altar.  Well, with every lunge off the altar I attempt, let me re-consecrate my heart to the only One who can secure my standing before God, on the merit of his blood, on the offering of Himself in my place, by the crediting of His righteousness in exchange for my wickedness.

O God, make me like Issac on Mt. Moriah (Gen 22), who could have easily overpowered his elderly father Abraham, but instead submitted to the rope and wood, tied up as a sacrifice on the altar, willingly.  Let me look to “the ram caught in the thicket,” my Lord Jesus, — the great Ram of God — who has taken my place in sacrifice on His Mt. Moriah, Calvary.

Psalm 66:19 adds:  “But God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.”  Sin crucified.  Self consecrated.  Prayer heard.

 

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I’ve been reading through Acts, and just hit the story of Paul and Barnabas’ ministry breakup.  I’ve thought often about this passage during my years in ministry, and have a collection of takeaways from this story.  But first, let me say (in no uncertain terms) that Psalm 133:1 implores:

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

Indeed, this is to be the norm in relationships among all who call upon Christ from sincere hearts.

Nevertheless….

  • In Philippians 4:2, Paul implores two Christian workers to live together in harmony with one another … the implication being that they’re in the midst of deep interpersonal conflict.
  • In Acts 15:36-41, Luke recounts Paul’s own experience with interpersonal conflict with another godly man, Barnabas.  Here are the raws facts of that situation, followed by some interesting implications for us all:

Five Raw Facts:

1.  Paul and Barnabas are both faithful servants of Christ, both spoken highly of in the Scriptures.

2. They experience unresolvable conflict over what to do with Mark, who deserted them on their first missionary journey.  Barnabas (a cousin of Mark, and perhaps exercising familial care) wants to bring Mark along for Journey 2.0, but Paul deems this “unwise.”

3.  Barnabas ends up taking Mark with him to Cyprus, his home country and the place where Missionary Journey 1.0 began.

4.  Paul ends up taking Silas as his partner, taking a northern route that brings them to some former cities from Journey 1.0, but adds many new cities where they preach Christ.

5.  Paul’s journey (as noted in 15:40) gets the commendation of the brothers at Jerusalem.  Nothing is said of Barnabas’ journey with Mark.

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Five Interesting Implications of all of this …

1.  We should not be surprised when Christian workers/missionaries disagree, at times.

2.  Disagreement, even when handled well, may not always lead to unanimity of thought or solution, but may lead to a doubling of the workforce (as it did here).  In Acts 15, we turbulently move from 1 missionary team to 2 missionary teams. Sometimes the Lord uses disruption to move us ahead.  That is a fascinating thought, indeed.

3.  Paul is bent toward TRUTH (the data, the track record of Mark) and Barnabas is bent toward GRACE (the restoration of a young worker with potential).  Both Truth and Grace are prime values in the Kingdom!  I propose that Paul and Barnabas were both “right,” if you must settle this question in your own mind (but why must you?  That’s a question of your heart, for another day).

4.  Though we’ll never hear of Barnabas again in the NT, we certainly will hear from his young protégé!  Mark will pen the most action-packed account of the Life of Jesus, and will be a key disciple of Peter.  Where would we be today without the Gospel of Mark (my favorite)?

5. Finally, track with me on this one:  If the Bible is simply the ‘textbook’ of a group of Conspirators who aim to dupe the gullible, then why was this story included in the final version?  Why didn’t it get edited out?  Why air the dirty laundry of the leaders?  My thesis is that the inclusion of this story argues for the veracity of the book of Acts, the NT, and the Bible as a whole.  Why include damaging data …. unless, of course, it simply happened that way and you’ve got no fear of the truth?

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Well, that’s enough for now.  I hope I’ve made you think.  Christians may see things differently, but not all conflict needs to end poorly.  (Though it may end with different geography, tenderized hearts, and a focus on God’s glory … but not His messengers).

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A Had a Dream …

… Ok, I very seldom remember my dreams when I wake in the morning.   But this one was so vivid and real, that I thought I was simply living it … until I woke up.

In my dream last night, I was at a small gathering of people, simply talking among acquaintances.  Only, I was talking off to the side with Tim Keller and his wife (Keller is pastor of Redeemer Pres in NYC, and a prominent voice for Christ in our culture today).  I was struck at how “normal” Tim Keller and his wife were in my dream … like 2 ordinary persons who were simply devoted to Christ and untouched by their ‘fame’ in Christian circles.

Now understand, I’ve never actually met Tim Keller, but I’m an admirer.  I’ve listened to several of his talks over and over again, to let them sink into my soul.  I’ve read some of his very good books.  I’m enamored by his combination of high intellectualism with plain speech delivered with perfect word choice.  A rare combination.

Anyway, as he and his wife signaled that they were about to leave, I mentioned one last thing to Tim in our conversation, something I’d “learned” during my sabbatical last year (and this actually is something I learned back then).  My words stopped them in their tracks, their attention rapt.  I told them this: “I know that a person’s value and worth is not tied to their performance.  In fact, if we look at a Down Syndrome child, we know that he is supremely valuable in God’s eyes without any demonstrable performance or achievements.  So, worth cannot be tied to performance.”

It’s a simple thought, but it rings true.  I’m tempted to think that my value or worth is tied to my performance, to how many widgets I produce for God, to how many disciples lives are changed by my influence, to how many new believers now adore Christ because of my words.

Nonsense.  The widgets I produce have no consequence upon my worth to God or my worth in this world (remember that this world is His world).  I am supremely valuable, supremely worth-while, not because I produce widgets for His Kingdom or converts for His Great Commission, but because I am His, because I have been both created in His Image and re-created by my older Brother, Jesus.  (Hebrews 2:11)

I have value.  In fact, inestimable value.  That’s not arrogance, that is reality.  My value is not tied to my effort, my intentions, my performance, my output, my productivity.

Just like the Down Syndrome child, I am valuable not because of what I do, but because God has made me valuable.  And such value, once apprehended, is impossible to lose.  Like a rare diamond, my value can never depreciate … only appreciate with time.

Unfortunately, I woke from my dream soon after delivering that line to Tim Keller and his wife.  Who knows, perhaps we’ll meet someday?  If not in this lifetime, then later on the New Earth.

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Poem #8 in my series of 8 Christmas Poems for Jesus, penned as gifts to Him over the past 8-9 Christmases.

Poem #8

A More Profound Joy

A Glance at the Painful Realities of Christmas

 

Will you ponder the pain of First Christmas?

When angels proclaim,  “Christ is born,”1

Yet beneath their joyous pronouncement

Hides hardship on Bethlehem morn.

 

For Mary and Joseph are suspect

Of conduct that few would condone

As nothing short of unholy;

Whom the Law requires to stone.2

 

Arriving in time for the Census3,

“No Vacancy” hangs at the Inn

They wander out back to the stable

Much to the couple’s chagrin.

 

And soon it is Mary who labors

In waves of unbearable pain

This night she’s awaited with courage

Will certainly not end in vain.

 

Eight days later4 Jesus is taken

To the Temple to be circumcised;

And Simeon there casts a warning5

So ominous they are surprised.

 

When the Magi leave from their visit,6

King Herod drafts a decree

That all babes within nearby hamlets

Will forfeit their lives without plea.7

 

So pain is the constant companion

Of these characters long, long ago,

But still there is One hidden Hero,

Who’s often left out of the show.

 

He’s holy, and He is transcendent,

The Father of Jesus, the King,

Who sent Him upon a great mission

To lay down His life for our sin.

 

What love would prompt such a forethought?

What love would freely give all?

What love would plan such a rescue?

‘Twas Jesus who answered that call.

 

Now we see, First Christmas was costly

For all who cherished this boy;

And perhaps we do well to remember

Their pain birthed a more profound joy.

1 Luke 2:11   2 John 8:4-5   3 Luke 2:1   4 Luke 2:21   5 Luke 2:33-35   6 Matthew 2:1, 12   7 Matthew 2:16

Jesus, our Profound Joy, in a Painful World.

This Christmas, will we remember how much others paid,

To make the Savior accessible to us?

Their suffering.  Our profound Joy.  2009



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Poem #7, Someday!

Poem #7 in my series of 8 Christmas Poems for Jesus, penned as gifts to Him over the past 8-9 Christmases.

Poem #7

Someday!

Someday I will appoint an honest King from the family of David…”  Jeremiah 23:5

 

Someday … forlorn Adam & Eve

will see a Descendent who will “crush Satan on the head.”1

 

Someday … believing Abraham

will have a Boy who will bless all the nations of earth.2

 

Someday … unworthy Judah

will birth a King who will reign supreme with the Royal scepter, over His eternal kingdom.3

 

Someday … shepherd Moses

reminds us, “a new Prophet will arise like me” who will shepherd God’s people.4

 

Someday … psalm-writer King David,

will have an Heir sit on his throne, who will govern forever.5

 

Someday a Virgin

will bear Him6, and the hamlet of Bethlehem will hold his birth certificate.7

 

Centuries passed, and Someday felt delayed … Until…

 

Today, in the town of David, is born a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.” 8

Today, “in the fullness of time, God sent His Son.”9

 

2,000 years ago … Someday became TodayChristmas.

 

 

 

Our forefathers yearned for that first Christmas.  Today, we yearn for a second Christmas,

when Jesus will return.

Someday … He returns.10 Someday … our groaning world sighs relief.11

 

Someday … riding a white horse, King Jesus ushers in His Kingdom.12

 

Someday … His rule spans the infinite stretches of His universe.  Sin extinguished, Death demolished.

 

That next ‘Someday’ inaugurates the beginning of a Day without end.  Eternal Today.

 

That Day comes quickly.  “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.”13


Happy Birthday, to the Returning King.   2008

 

Footnotes:  1 Genesis 3:15   2 Genesis 12:7, 3   3 Genesis. 49:10   4 Deuteronomy 18:18   5 I Chronicles 17:10-14   6 Isaiah 7:14   7 Micah 5:2   8 Luke 2:11   9 Galatians 4:4   10 Acts 1:11   11 Romans 8:22, 18-21   12 Revelation 19:11-21   13 Revelation 22:20

Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but Someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”  Acts 1:11


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Poem #6 in my series of 8 Christmas Poems for Jesus, penned as gifts to Him over the past 8-9 Christmases.

Poem #6

A Merry-Mary or Merry-Martha Christmas?

Mary sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations…” Luke 10:39-40

1Gotta hurry,

Gotta rush,

Driving over

Snow and slush.

 

2Loot the stores

Of tree and trim,

Spend our time

On all but Him.

 

3House looks great

Festive green,

Candles lit

Snow globes clean.

 

4Work so hard

‘Til all looks right,

But do our hearts

Reflect His light?

 

5Tree is trimmed

We ‘feel thin,’

Carols play

Soul sounds tin.

 

6So we feel

Desperate fear,

Blow the dust

Off Bible near.

 

7Read in Luke

Sisters, two,

Mary – seated,

Martha – “Do!”

 

8“Do, do, do”

Martha’s creed;

House picked up

–Form of greed.

 

9Here comes Jesus

Guest to please,

Clean the dishes,

Cook the peas!”

 

10“Where is Mary?

Help me now!

Will I finish?

Don’t know how.”

 

11Mary sits

Jesus’ feet

Listens close

Words that treat.

 

12Heart feels warm

Hears His voice,

Leaps within

“I Rejoice!”

 

13Martha watches

Rabbi turn

Gaze at her:

You’ve much to learn.”

 

14“Distracted Martha,

Why so harried?

Preparations

Long you’ve carried.”


15I didn’t come

To eat a meal,

To check your home

For curb appeal.”


16I came to tell you

Of my Love,

For you to still

Your heart above.”


17One thing’s needed

If you’re wise,

Like sister Mary

Find the prize.”

 

18There’s the kernel

Of the truth.

Christmas riddle

Requires a sleuth.

 

19Not what we do

For Him to see,

But what He did

For you and me.

 

20Mary prized

The Son of Man

Who came and died

And lives again.

 

21Her example

Keeps me true,

Let things go –

Him in view.

 

22We wish you a Mary Christmas,

We wish you a Mary Christmas,

We wish you a Mary Christmas,

And a happy New Year!

 

Until you come again, Lord Jesus, you shall find us, like Mary, seated at Your feet.

Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42


Happy Birthday Jesus, 2007

 

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