Determining Destiny

One of the chief goals of parents is to help our children make good decisions. If we get that right, the children just might turn out OK. Anyone who is trapped in some sort of vice or addiction probably is not that good at making decisions. When it comes to following God versus walking my own path, while it may come down to commitment, there is also a decision making process that must be utilized.

Quotes:

One of life’s greatest tragedies is a person with a 10-by-12 capacity and a two-by-four soul. — Kenneth Hildebrand

God has created me to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission. — John Henry Newman

Top 10 Ways to Make Good Decisions:

  1. Invite counsel from trusted people within your spiritual community.
  2. Let God reshape or amplify the desires in your heart.
  3. Look for your story inside of God’s story throughout the Bible.
  4. Pay attention to God’s still, small voice.
  5. When unsure or confused, wait for confirmation.
  6. Pursue the vision God has given until more comes.
  7. If God isn’t speaking, go back to # 1.
  8. Look for God to confirm His will in several ways.
  9. Capitalize on both the mistakes and the victories of the past.
  10. Listen constantly, trust unceasingly and act boldly.

Leadership and Wisdom

After the Word of God was growing and prevailing Ephesus (Acts 19:20) Paul decided that he needed to go to Jerusalem and then to Rome (Acts 19:21). While in Ephesus, the Emperor Claudius was poisoned and the Empire fell into the hands of a 16-year-old boy named Nero (in AD 54). It’s almost like Paul needed to witness to the new Emperor; maybe he thought it would be a great opportunity to change the Empire.

Paul was used by God in a mighty way and the enemy would not give up without a fight, so Paul encountered more trouble before he left Ephesus (Acts 19:21, 23). We are also told that Paul was again alone, having sent Erastus and Timothy into Macedonia (Acts 19:22).

It was normally the Jews causing Paul grief, but we read of two Gentile groups rising up against him: in Philippi (Acts 16:16-19) and here in Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41). It seems the gospel was a threat to the local idol making industry (Acts 19:24-25). Paul was hurting their trade and needed to be stopped; reasoning that he was robbing Artemis of her majesty (Acts 19:27). She was believed to be the daughter of Zeus and her temple was in Ephesus (one of the seven ancient wonders of the world). The silversmiths had made little statues in her likeness so I believe that these businessmen cared little about her majesty and more about their profits. The gospel and Paul were bad for business.

There was a town hall gathering in the theater in Ephesus and a couple believers are dragged to the meeting (Acts 19:29). Paul wanted to go there and speak to the crowd but his friends persuaded him not to go (Acts 19:30). Sometimes Paul had more passion and courage than sense. What I like here is that the disciples were not afraid to disagree with the apostle; Paul did not surround himself with yes-men and they had the freedom to speak their minds. Paul let the wisdom of others take priority over his own desires. He was not only a preacher and teacher but Paul was a good discussion leader (Acts 19:9). It is my observation that leaders who are afraid of others disagreeing with them leave little room for discussion. I am encouraged by leaders who do not think they always have to be right.

Not only did the friends of Paul not want him to go tho the theater, the city officials begged him not to go (Acts 19:31). Then the Jews got a man named Alexander to stir up the crowd chanting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for about two hours (Acts 19:34), which is an odd thing for the Jews to do… to encourage the practice of idolatry (Exodus 20:3-4).

A little history: the people believed that Artemis had fallen to earth in the form of a meteor, like a multibreasted woman, who was proclaimed as the patron deity of childbirth. After a little research, I discovered she was the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and young girls, bringing and relieving disease in women; often depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows. I am still amazed at what people will believe; sort of like believing that we all evolved from primordial muck by chance over time. It takes more faith to believe this universe just happened by accident than to believe in a divine creation. The universe is way to complex for there not to be an Intelligent Designer behind it all. Paul brought the message that the Messiah came down from the Father who offers everlasting life to those who believe; a much more believable story than a goddess falling as a rock from space.

Application: How many men today have another man beside them to guide them along life’s journey? Men who will speak truth to them, to help them avoid danger and temptation? How many of us are as passionate as Paul, compelled with a mission that must be accomplished? How many of us who are in leadership are humble enough to listen to others? Are we ever strong enough to admit, and even confess, that we were wrong? To our employees, our wives, our children? Do you surround yourself with yes-men or those who will challenge you and speak the truth to you in love?

Run Away or Trust God?

Paul and Barnabas shared quite a lot together. Today I’ll write about two episodes on their journey with different outcomes.

When they arrived at Iconium, as usual, the two would first go to the local synagogue (Acts 14:1), where the norm is that the Jews would begin to poison the minds of the people to prevent the gospel message from entering the hearts of the people (Acts 14:2). But our missionaries were faithful and fearless, proclaiming the gospel boldly and even working miracles among the people (Acts 14:3). Then comes the real trouble.

In their boldness you would think they would make their stand and trust God to protect them, but they did the unexpected, they ran (Acts 14:5, 6). Could not God have done a miracle to protect His witnesses? They were already doing signs and wonders, what’s one more to keep the ministry going? They fled and preached elsewhere.

God made these two smart. They were not running out of fear but responding with wisdom (Proverbs 22:3). Even Jesus would elude people who meant Him harm (John 7:1), and slipped away when the crowd picked up stones to kill Him (John 8:59). No one would mistake what Jesus did for fear or cowardice. Jesus explains that His time had not yet come (John 7:30). There was a purpose for miracles back in the day:

  1. Miracles were more for authenticating the message of the gospel than for divine intervention.
  2. Miracles were often used when natural means were either not available or not conceivable.

When the disciples were hungry Jesus did not do a miracle but usually found something to eat. When they were thirsty they would go to a well and draw water. Today, whether God uses natural or supernatural means to deliver us from danger, both or divine provisions. If you have ever been attacked or injured and wonder why you were not delivered, there’s more to this story of Paul and Barnabas.

On to Lystra for the next episode. Sometimes we think that one good miracle would convince people of the truth and get right with God, but it can also have a negative effect (Acts 14:11). After one miracle the people declared Paul and Barnabas to be gods, which was not their desired outcome. Not only were these two men smart, they were also sincere. They immediately spoke up declaring themselves to be mere men (Acts 14:14, 15). They maintained their integrity and did not allow the crowd to elevate them. A big miracle about now might have been helpful, but the people decided to cast stones at them, leaving Paul for dead (Acts 14:19).

I can imagine that the face of Stephen came into Paul’s mind as he was being stoned to death (Acts 6:15). But Paul endured this hardship and so much more, crediting God for delivering him from them all (2 Timothy 3:10, 11). I would rather be delivered before the first stone rather than after the last one, but Paul describes both situations as God’s divine rescue.

Remember that God did not just want to get Paul out of difficulty or danger; He wanted Paul to draw closer to Himself. That is the point each time we are delivered from a difficult situation.

Application: How many times have you felt that God had abandoned you in your time of need or distress? Your prayers just hit the ceiling and God was so distant. Remember that He promises to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death, not necessarily to deliver us from that danger (Psalm 23:4). Do you see the miraculous in everyday life? How lives and relationships can come back together? How believers can respond to evil with good? Do you see God’s direction and protection as you walk through this antagonistic world? God gives us His wisdom and His presence. Walking with God may not be easy, but it is definitely worth it.

Salted With Fire

This is part three of my Wednesday evening study on the Words of Jesus. Click on the following link for the first two lessons [ Go ] Remember to go to the bottom of the articles to use the “printer friendly” link if you want to print them.

The Heart of it All Today: Jesus speaks words of warning and comfort to his followers, that the life of faith would lead to persecution. They can find peace if they keep their minds fixed on eternity.

Key Term – World: Cosmos means the world and everything in it. Disciples are part of the kingdom of God so they will face hostility from the sinful world but will overcome.

Key Verse: (John 16:33) In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.

No one could accuse Jesus of sugar-coating the nature of discipleship; he was blunt in telling them what they were up against. “No good deed goes unpunished” will become a reality. This is not all ancient history because it happens all too often in modern times. Religious tolerance is not a reality, especially when it comes to followers of Christ.

Wise Doves (Matthew 10:16):

  1. Sheep – harmless among the harmful. Be wise and gentle. While snakes often symbolize evil, they also symbolize wisdom, shrewdness and cunning. A gentle dove without shrewdness is inadequately equipped, as is a snake without gentleness.
  2. Paul understood what Jesus is saying (1 Corinthians 14:20), “in regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”
  3. Telling them they would be like sheep among wolves would likely cause many to turn away. His words are not for the crowds but for those seeking a challenge in life.

Eyes Wide Open (Matthew 10:17-20):

  1. Be on your guard: not to instill paranoia but to warn them that the life of faith brings dangers. Jesus warns not only of governmental persecution but from the apostles own religion, which was pretty cruel. Those called heretics were often those with the most devotion to God.
  2. Religious persecution, local councils: For Jews, a town of 120 or more adults would have a tribunal of three judges. Further up the ladder was a council of 23 judges, and the Jewish supreme court, which  had 71 members (the Sanhedrin and the High Priest). Local judges likely had the same hostility as the Sanhedrin had for Jesus.
  3. Secular persecution: These represent opportunities to witness to their faith. Faith grew as the faithful were persecuted.
  4. Don’t worry what you will say: Not that they should not give thought to what they will say, but don’t fret or agonize over it. Worry tears down the faith we seek to proclaim. God give us grace for every situation; but not future grace. He grants the grace in the moment we need it, to depend on him and not on ourselves.
  5. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit will guide them and Peter experienced it (Acts 8:4), which was a fulfillment of the promise in Acts 4:31.

Salted with Fire (Mark 9:49):

  1. Commentators agonize and debate the meaning here. Jesus just warned about leading other people to sin, and removing any causes of sin in our own lives (If you eye offend you, pluck it out – Mark 9:47-48). Since “everyone will be salted with fire” follows a warning about the fires of hell, we are tempted to see both fires as the same place. How can that apply to everyone (unless it means everyone in hell)?
  2. It appears that “everyone” means the followers of Jesus. The Jewish sacrifices were always rubbed with salt as a part of the ritual, salt being a symbol of purity and preservation. The disciples will be offering themselves as living sacrifices to the Lord (Romans 12:1-2) salted with fire, referring to the testing of persecution. Through the fires of suffering, they will emerge as seasoned believers.
  3. Fire is connected with sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Fire will test the quality of the work we leave behind (1 Corinthians 3:13) and Peter spoke of enduring a fiery ordeal (1 Peter 4:12).
  4. Persecution tends to purge the church of its weak and lukewarm members. Those who fell to persecution were not really that committed to begin with. In the Roman Empire, each wave of persecution brought about a stronger church. Indeed the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church (Tertullian, an early church father, AD 160-220).

Rejoicing in the Fire (Matthew 5:10-12):

  1. From the Beatitudes, we don’t like to think much about this one. Being persecuted meant being a part of an elite group of God people; holy men and women of old. There is a long chain of violent deaths. Moses was almost stoned to death on a couple of occasions, Elijah lived much of his life under a death sentence. The “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 is a disturbing yet inspiring list of God’s faithful (Hebrews 11:36-38).
  2. The early church knew that everyone who desired to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). Stephen understood the concept (Acts 7:52). Paul and Silas endured persecution and encouraged others to do the same (Romans 12:14). Even Peter mentions that if you suffer for what is right, you are blessed (1 Peter 3:13-14).
  3. Instead of fear, we are to rejoice and be glad; Luke adds “leap for joy (Luke 6:23). I think the focus is on the eternal reward, rather than the pain of suffering.
  4. Matthew uses the Greek term misthos, meaning reward; it is clear that he does not mean an earthly reward. Great is your reward in heaven can also mean, “great in the eyes of God.” Basically, mud thrown at you by the impure is a pledge of your purity.
  5. This world is not our home; our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), so compared to heaven, what is the world worth?

Hating the Ambassador (John 15:19-23, Matthew 10:24-25):

  1. Those who hated Jesus will hate his followers, those who accept his teaching will also accept his followers. To hate one is to hate the other.
  2. Share the Master’s glory, they must also share his pain and humiliation. We are part of the same household and sharing is an important concept (Romans 8:17, 2 Corinthians 1:7).

Labor and Joy (John 16:20):

  1. John does not give us any parables, but this passage reveals a concrete situation from everyday life.
  2. John uses thlipsis, meaning more than pain, but great tribulation, where the Spirit is present as a counselor.
  3. No one will take away your joy, a great promise in the Bible. Faith will keep them strong as they carry on the mission of Jesus (2 Corinthians 6:10). Nothing will compare to the joy that is ahead (Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 4:13).

Victors, not Victims (John 16:33):

  1. Irony: Jesus’ suffering is about to take place, and what they will endure will be nothing compared to his. Thlipsis is tremendous suffering, intense anguish. “Trouble” is not a good translation.
  2. “Overcome” is nenikeka, the root being “victory.” The world sees them as victims but that is not true. People of faith are considered “otherworldly.”
  3. These same disciples who ran and hid after the crucifixion became fearless after they received the power of the Holy Spirit. They became more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). They knew the God is greater than anything in the world (1 John 4:4). and they have the promise given to overcomers (Revelation 2:7).

No Peace (Matthew 10:34-37):

  1. While Jesus promises inner peace, outer peace will not be easy to find. “Can’t we all just get along” brings a resounding “No.” Living under God’s rule causes problems with others. The government might leave you alone, but the family would harass the one who had left the Jewish faith. Tolerance is difficult when those in the family begin to think and act differently that the rest of us.
  2. There was the practice of disowning a family member who turned away from the faith (Psalm 55:12-13).
  3. Luke 14:26 seems even more harsh. Hating does not sound right. Disciples must be willing to endure separation from everything they find most dear to them. There is no room for lukewarm discipleship.

Standing Firm (Matthew 10:21-22):

  1. Betrayal by family members was pretty extreme. Faith can cause strife in a family, but Jesus goes farther and says that some will be so repulsed by the faith of a family member that they will be betrayed to death.
  2. “He who endures until the end will be saved” means that faith is about the whole life. Endurance is not easy, but it is worth it (Revelation 2:10, Hebrews 12:3).

Running with the Message (Matthew 10:23):

  1. The Jews had been persecuted for centuries and their teachers suffered greatly, but they did not abandon their faith. Jesus is telling them not to recklessly pursue martyrdom. Moving elsewhere to escape martyrdom is not wrong.
  2. Jesus seemed to run toward it in the crucifixion, but there were times were he avoided conflict (Matthew 12:14-15, John 8:59, 10:39).
  3. The early church understood, they scattered during persecution (Acts 8:1, 11:19).

The Only One Who Matters (Matthew 10:28):

  1. It seems that the “One” is Satan, but believers are instructed to resisted Satan, never to fear him (James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:9). The idea of Satan being the keeper of hell and determines who goes there is not found in the Bible. The One is God and we are not to fear humans, but only God.
  2. Why fear God, should we not love him? We are to do both. Fear is more showing reverence, not forgetting our fate ultimately rests in God’s hands.

Next week we will look at “I have set you an example” mastering the art of serving others.