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The Providence of God July 30, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Acts, Apostle Paul, Providence.
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THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD
Acts 24:11-23

The Puritans had “an extraordinary awareness of God’s providence. This, in turn, produced the Puritan practice of keeping diaries…John Bartlet advised Christians to ‘meditate on the experience you have had of God’s faithfulness, and[the] goodness you have had in all his providences…. To help you herein, you shall do well to make a catalogue and keep a diary of God’s special providences’ ” (from Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were by Leland Ryken, pp. 209-210).

In our passage today we see God’s providence at work. God is not working a miracle by changing the laws of nature to correspond to his will but rather is guiding natural events to accomplish his will. It may be that you have not been paying attention to God’s working in your life. I trust you will learn from Paul’s life that our times are in His hands and because of His providence we can rest now in Him.

A. We need to recognize that God’s providence is for the accomplishment of His purposes, not for ours (verses 11-15). That is what God is telling Paul in these verses.

1. Paul had plans to go to Rome (Romans 1:15; 15:22-33). He had plans to go to Jerusalem and had asked the church in Rome to pray that Paul would be accepted by the Jewish church in Jerusalem (which prayer God answered) and that he would be kept safe from his unbelieving enemies (which prayer God did not answer). After he left Jerusalem, he planned to stop in Rome on his way to the mission field of Spain.

2. God also had plans for Paul to go to Rome but they were not the same plans. God’s timing was different. It was several years later before Paul ended up in Rome. God’s purpose was different. As a prisoner of Caesar, Paul had opportunities to proclaim the gospel which he never would have had by entering the Roman house churches or in a Jewish synagogue. He preached to more Jews, he preached to more Gentiles, he even had the opportunity to go before Caesar. Whether he ever went to Spain, we do not know but he accomplished what God planned for him.

“Paul, in his letter to the Christians at Philippi, expressed his opinion about how God used the circumstances of his arrest: ‘I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly (Philippians 1:12-14)’ ” (from Decision-Making by the Book by Haddon Robinson, page 104).

3. God used the evil intents of Paul’s enemies to accomplish His plans. Remember what Joseph said to his brothers when they feared after the death of their father that Joseph would get even with them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:19-20).

B. God’s providence is the explanation for coincidences (verses 16-22). As one goes through this story of Paul going from Ephesus to Rome, only once, near the end of the journey does God do miracles and those miracles had little or nothing to do with Paul ending up in Rome.

1. God puts people in place at the right time (verse 16). Henry Blackaby tells about his church trying for two years in Saskatoon, Canada to start without success a Bible study in the dorms. One day he told the college students in his church, “‘If someone starts asking you spiritual questions, whatever else you have planned, don’t do it. Cancel what you are doing’…. On Wednesday [of that week] one of the girls reports, ‘Oh Pastor, a girl who has been in classes with me for two years came to me after class today. She said, ‘I think you might be a Christian. I need to talk to you.’ I remembered what you said. I had a class, but I missed it. We went to the cafeteria to talk. She said, ‘Eleven of us girls in the dorm have been studying the Bible, and none of us are Christians. Do you know somebody who can lead us in a Bible study?’” (from Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby, pages 70-71).

2. God controls the actions of those who are in authority (verses 17ff). The book of Proverbs tells us that the king’s heart is in the LORD’s hands. In the days of Augustus a decree went out that all the world should be taxed. As a result of that decree, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. I hate taxes and I generally vote against them but I pay them because it is right and and I do it knowing that God will use my taxes to direct His will in someone’s life.

C. We make our decisions confident in God’s providence (25:6-12). Paul said, “No, I am going to appeal to Caesar. I am not going to let you have me killed at the hands of my countrymen. I know my rights, give them to me.” Felix said, “You’ve appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go.”

“Years ago [Ray Pritchard] spoke to a man whose wife had been in and out of drug rehab several times. Her struggles with drugs and alcohol (and his struggles with anger) had reduced their marriage to a shambles. It may have been the most hopeless marriage [Pritchard] ever saw. But through nothing less than a miracle from God, they somehow pulled through and survived a crisis that lasted for the better part of a decade. One day the man looked [Pritchard] in the eye and said, ‘I now understand that it had to happen the way it did.’ It takes great faith in God to say something like that, and it could only be said at the end of the ordeal, looking back and seeing that even the worst moments were leading to something much better.”

We will not in every case be able to look back and say we understand. That is not promised us by God. What is promised is that whether those tough times are coming, or they are behind us, or whether we are in the midst of them, we can be confident that God’s ways are perfect.

This is not an excuse to make bad decisions or to pawn off on God our bad decisions. It is, however, an assurance to us that God always does what is right and that we need to align ourselves as best we can with His ways, His will, and His word.

If you live confident in God’s providence you will learn to avoid the bitterness that plagues so many people and will learn to forgive others more easily.

If you live confident in God’s providence you will learn to suffer patiently and with longsuffering, knowing that His will is perfect.

Are you confident in God’s providence?

Next week: Guilty of Hope (Acts 24-25)

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Life After Death July 23, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Uncategorized.
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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DIE?

Acts 23

 

Death is a difficult issue to think about. I think that is why the book of Ecclesiastes says that a funeral is better than a party. A funeral brings us back to reality. President Obama has called the nation to reflection and prayer because of death.

 

Perhaps you’ve read about Jessica Ghawi, the young lady who died in the tragedy at Aurora, Colorado. She had escaped a similar tragedy in Toronto just a few weeks back. Those of us who weren’t involved in Toronto had already forgotten about it. We had moved on to other tragedies. That is the way life is lived nowadays. This young woman, however, had written in her blog about escaping the incident, saying, “I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath.”

 

Like I said, death is a difficult issue. It is a difficult issue because life is so precious that to lose it is a devastating loss. To deal with it, we make jokes.

 

“Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Bill and George who were both avid baseball players. One day they wondered if people played baseball in heaven. They agreed that whoever died first would find out the answer and try to come back to communicate with the survivor. Eventually Bill died. Several weeks later George was awakened with a vision of his friend Bill. He was delighted to see him and asked, ‘Do they play baseball in heaven?’ Bill said, ‘I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, they play baseball all the time in heaven. The bad news is, you’re scheduled to pitch next week’” (from Ray Pritchard).

 

You may have smiled and humor has a very important place in dealing with death but I think we can do better than that. I want us to look at the Bible’s answer to the question, “What happens when you die?”

 

  1. There are two answers, depending on who you are. First of all, for us as believers, being absent from the body means being present with the Lord. This is a quotation from Philippians 1. Paul in prison expressed his longing to be with the Lord. He was certain that death meant immediately to be with Jesus.

 

  1. This was Paul’s view here in Acts. Although he was using cleverly the question as a part of his defense, the question of the resurrection is first and foremost a question about what happens immediately after you die. The Sadducees lack of belief in an angel and in a spirit, that is, in life after death, is much different than Paul’s view. He expounds on it in 2 Corinthians 5:1-9. “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”

 

Paul did not merely believe in life after death. He believed in a new creation. In other places like First Corinthians 15, Paul writes about this new creation, describing it as Christ’s victory over death. N. T. Wright says in his book, Evil and the Justice of God, “When we think of a world unreachable by death, we tend in Western culture to think of a nonphysical world. But the truly remarkable thing Paul is talking about here is an incorruptible, unkillable physical world. New creation is what matters, a new kind of world with a new kind of physicality, which will not need to decay and die.” That is what Paul means by the clause, “…so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

 

  1. Paul’s view was consistent with the Pharisee’s view, which was the common view of the Jews in Jesus’ day. In the Old Testament, the witch at Endor was shocked to see a ghost. However, in Jesus’ day and in the book of Acts people believed in ghosts. We use the word spirit because the word ghost is associated with haunting and Halloween. That was not what the Pharisees thought about. They believed that the spirits of those who died were reserved until such time that they would be raised from the dead. This was not talked about much in the Old Testament. Daniel talks about it and this was believed after the time of Daniel but it was not based on long passages in the Old Testament but rather on snippets of truth. It was reserved for the New Testament and especially Paul to talk about our future after death.

 

  1. It was contradictory to the Sadducee, that is, the priestly family’s view. The party of Sadducees was conservative. They lived according to the letter of the law, rejecting the many traditions and rules that the Pharisees had added to the Jewish faith. They were not liberals as you will sometimes hear it said. It is popularly believed that they did not believe in angels. That view is based on a misunderstanding of verses eight and nine. You will find it in many commentaries. In Vermont I had a perceptive young person ask how it could be that the Sadducees did not believe in angels when they obviously believed as priests and strong believers in the Old Testament in the supernatural. N. T. Wright has in the last decade explained what the Sadducees seem to have really believed. Their hope was not that of a resurrection but was that of a good reputation and a moral legacy for the next generation to build on. In other words your “angel” or your “spirit” simply ceases to exist when you die. What a hopeless view of death.

 

John Donne, like a lot of poets, wrote a lot about death. We are most familiar with the line, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” He wrote, however, a more hopeful line about death and resurrection, “One short sleep past, we wake eternally; and Death shall be no more; Death, thou shall die.”

 

On the other hand, I should point out that death is not easy for us as believers to handle even though we believe that our angel or our spirit will continue to exist. “Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse—beloved Bible teacher of another generation—told the following story. While he was still a young man in the ministry, his first wife died. As he was returning from the funeral with his heartbroken children, their car came to a stoplight just as a massive truck pulled up next to them, blocking the light of the sun. Seeing the immense shadow that had overtaken them, Dr. Barnhouse asked his children if they would rather be run over by the truck or by the shadow of the truck. ‘By the shadow,’ the children instantly replied, knowing that a shadow could not hurt them. ‘That’s what has happened to your mother,’ he told them. ‘Death cannot hurt her because the Lord Jesus Christ took her to heaven. It is only the shadow of death that took her from us’” (from Ray Pritchard). That is the reason we have hope because we realize that for the believer death is only a shadow.

 

  1. However, for unbelievers, being absent from the body means being held for judgment in hell. Jesus’ description in Luke 16 is an awful description. There is much I don’t understand about hell. I do know this. I don’t want to go there.

 

This rich man appeared to die well. He died wealthy. But to die and go to hell is not my idea of dying well. If you want to die well, you have to live well and to live well you must know Jesus Christ as your Savior so that you can right now have eternal life.

 

  1. For believers and unbelievers there will be a resurrection which will be followed by evaluation and/or judgment. Hebrews tells us, “It is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgment.” It matters for all of us how we live because after we die, we will be held accountable.

 

Does our lives here as believers matter? Absolutely, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10. That verse was written to believers about the ministry we have of telling others the gospel of Jesus Christ. I do not believe that we will lose our salvation but it will be a terrible thing to give account for what we have done or not done in our bodies.

 

The unbeliever will be judged also, but his judgment is different. The judgment of the believers comes before eternal life. The judgment of the resurrected unbeliever comes with eternal death.

 

     Augustine was preaching to his congregation one day. “Let me address the lover of this present life. What are you doing, why are you in such a hurry, why so full of dread, why taking to your heels, why looking for a hiding place?

     In order to stay alive, he says.

     Really to stay alive? To stay alive in such a way as to be alive always?

     No.

     Then you aren’t going to all this trouble to destroy death, but only to delay it. If you go to such lengths just to die a little later, why not do something in order never to die at all?” (from Sermon 302).

 

Paul’s Defense Suggests What We Need to Do As We Witness July 10, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Acts, Apostle Paul, Testimony, Witnessing.
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PUTTING A BURR IN THE SADDLE
Acts 22

(From RBC by Martin DeHaan accessed at http://beenthinking.org/articles/giving-facts-a-chance/ on July 3, 2012) “In the early 1950s, a small Chicago-based religious sect predicted that the world was going to end on December 21, 1954. Their leader claimed to have received this information from an alien reincarnation of Jesus who went by the name of Sananda.
Their prophecy caught the attention of researchers from Stanford University, who decided to use the group as a case study in human nature.

Recently, author Chris Mooney wrote an article for Mother Jones magazine describing what the researchers learned. Since they were able to infiltrate the group to do their study, they were able to observe firsthand what happened when December 21 passed without incident.

First the researchers saw the confusion that occurred as members of the group tried to explain their mistake. Then the unexpected happened. The leader claimed to receive a new communication from Sananda. The new message was that the little group had not failed. On the contrary, they had saved the world from judgment by believing in the prediction. From that moment on, believers in Sananda were more convinced than ever of the truth and value of their mission. They adjusted their view of reality rather than admitting they were wrong.

So why is the study of this small religious sect worth thinking about? According to one of the researchers who studied them, this little group of fanatical believers remind us of a principle far greater than their numbers. ‘A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.’

The article goes on to suggest that many of the disagreements that divide us are rooted in our natural instincts for survival. To protect our beliefs and emotional attachments, we push threatening ideas away and pull friendly information closer. This begins to happen subconsciously even before we are aware of what is happening. Self-protective reactions mobilize thoughts and emotions to protect our beliefs as if our life depended on it.”
In our passage today we see an example of a group of people who did not want to face the facts. From this we can learn some lessons.

A. Our community may not moved by our personal testimony. It is interesting that in this scientific world that we live in, most of the decisions that we make and many of the things that we believe are not based on facts that can be demonstrated in the lab. I am not only talking about religion but about many things that intelligent people do, to take just one example, abusing their bodies with all manners of drugs, although it is clear that such abuse is destructive.

Why do people do this? Because many if not most of the decisions we make are not based on scientific facts but rather on what the accumulation of our personal experiences tells us.

1. Our society admires and confirms personal experience. This is true of conservatives and liberals. We value our experiences above any other source of truth. We value what we feel. We value what we think will give us safety or security or meaning or whatever it is that we think we need most. The problem with experience, however, is that not everyone has the exact same experiences. Maybe eating ice cream and Cheetos for breakfast has worked for you, made you more productive but I have functioned better on watercress and cucumbers. It is hard to judge and evaluate someone else’s experience. Unless we find someone’s personal experience threatening in some way, we tend to admire and confirm it in others.

2. Our society does not understand our personal experience with Christ. They may listen, they may affirm it, but they will not because they cannot understand our personal experience with Christ. That does not mean that we should not share it but they need more than personal experience. They need their conscience pricked.

B. Our community may not be moved by our miraculous experiences. It is interesting that the large number of books like “23 Minutes in Hell” do not seem to have an impact on the world. They may sell well among believers but the world seems not to be interested.

1. Many of them have also had miraculous experiences. It is not unusual to find unbelievers who have had amazing experiences. One of the leading atheists of the last century (A. J. Ayer) had an out-of-body experience in which he reportedly saw a “Divine Being” (see http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/roundtable/an-atheist-meets-the-masters-of-the-universe.php). Yet Ayer although noticeably different after “he died” did not become a Christian. Those who rejected Jesus did not disbelieve his miracles but simply attributed them to the power of the devil rather than the power of God. Belief in miracles does not necessarily open one to belief in Jesus Christ.

2. Those who doubt our miraculous experiences often will simply ignore us. This was true in Jesus’ day also. Marcus Borg, by no means a fundamentalist Christian, in “Jesus, A New Vision” wrote, “In the tradition in which [Jesus] stood, including the healings and exorcisms reported of him were not unique. Yet though the historical study of the miracles results in the loss of their uniqueness, it produces a gain in their credibility. Contrary to the modern notion that such events are impossible, we must grant that the historical evidence that Jesus stood in the stream of Jewish charismatic healers is very strong.” Perhaps this is in part why Jesus’ popularity before his death was short-lived and fickle.

It is also why the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so powerful. To cast out demons, to heal the sick, these things are not unusual. To rise from the dead never to die again; that is powerful, life-changing, gives hope, establishes a foundation, a solid rock on which one can stand with full confidence in the future.

C. Our community will be bothered when they see life transformation. This is evidenced when Paul accuses them of Stephen’s murder and proclaims that God wants Gentiles to hear the message of Jesus Christ. It is only when men are held personally responsible for their own sin and what repentance should produce in lives that they will be forced to make a decision. They understood the implication of Paul’s message. Ethnic and religious loyalty resulted in sin against the resurrected Christ.

Yet that is exactly where we must touch them, where it really hurts. It does no good to operate on the big toe if it is the thumb that is broken. Jesus recognized this when he said, “It is the sick and not the well; which need a physician.” If you constantly tell people who think they are okay that there is something seriously, morally wrong with them, they will react. That is, however, what they need to hear from us. They need to hear that they are sinners in the hands of an angry God, a God who is angry with their sin and will be angry with them if they do not turn from all of their loyalties and give their sole loyalty to Jesus Christ.

Acts 21 Being in the World but not of It July 5, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Acts, Apostle Paul, Christian Living.
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BEING A CHRISTIAN IN AMERICA
Acts 21:15-40

As believers in Christ we are in the world but not of it. That means we have to understand what is the world and our relationship to that world. The world in this sense is not the creation or even the population of this planet on which we live but rather the evil system in which Satan and sinful men work together and which tempts us to sin. There is in our flesh a natural draw to that world of which we must be aware and against which we must resist.

The Bible teaches that every nation and government is a part of this world (In the book of Daniel, for example). That means that we as believers must beware of the specific temptations presented by being citizens of whatever nation of which we are a member.

This is not an unusual problem. It has been faced by every generation of Christians. It was faced by those who lived in the Roman Empire both before and after it became “Christian.”

It also was a problem for the Jew. Remember that when Jesus spoke of being in the world and not of the world he was speaking to believing Jews about how they were to relate to their unbelieving but religious background.

We find in this passage in Acts Paul’s application of being in the world and not of it. There are four principles to which I would like for us to respond as we look at this passage.

A. The goals of our lives are determined solely by service to the gospel of Christ (verses 17-20a).
B. How we practice our patriotism must be determined by our goals as believers in Jesus Christ (verses 20b-25).
C. The world should not take kindly to us because of our service to the gospel of Christ (verses 26-36).
D. Our national citizenship is a gift from God to be used for service to the gospel of Christ (verses 37-40).

1. The goals of our lives are determined solely by service to the gospel of Christ (verses 17-20a).

Ray Pritchard tells of hearing “about soldiers who on the eve of a desperate battle said to each other, ‘Have you died yet?’ They meant, ‘Have you stopped trying to save your life and do you understand that to be a good soldier means you may die in the great battle?’ It’s that sort of mindset that Paul cultivates here. If this life is all there is, then we need to be cautious and careful in all that we do. But if there is another life beyond this life, and if we know that someday we will be raised from the dead, then we can risk it all for the sake of the Kingdom.”

2. How we practice our patriotism must be determined by our goals as believers in Jesus Christ (verses 20b-25).

Paul had been preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and he as well as the church in Jerusalem had recognized that to demand believing Gentiles to keep the law was to put a burden on their Christian faith (see Acts 13 as well as the book of Galatians). Rumors, however, among the believing Jews asserted that Paul was teaching that the Jews abandon the law to serve Jesus Christ. This was not true but the rumors were calling Paul’s patriotism as a Jew into question. If Paul’s patriotism as a Jew was being called into question then it would make the ministry of the Jerusalem church more difficult. James, therefore, asked Paul to not only take a Jewish religious vow but to also pay for the incurred expenses (sacrifices, perhaps) of four men from the Jerusalem church.

Why would Paul do such a thing? Because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He did not have the mindset of “How dare they expect that of me? Don’t they respect my rights? I have my pride?”

In this day and age, questioning someone’s patriotism is a weapon often used in the media. People go out of their way to make sure that no one pays the patriotism card against them. Through the ages peoples have rewritten history so that their patriotism would be supported by the “facts.” We, however, as believers in Christ are disciples first and patriots second. We are to bear the cross before we bear the flag. Our message is a message of freedom in Christ not the virtues of democracy.

Does your love of the gospel govern your patriotism? I’m not talking about your views of environmentalism, gun control, taxes, or health care reform. In a sense I am not even talking about abortion or freedom of religion issues. I am asking, “Do those who know you best know that you rank your love of the gospel of Jesus Christ above any patriotic or political or philosophical ideals? Is your attitude toward your community governed by your love for the gospel of Christ?

3. The world should not take kindly to us because of our service to the gospel of Christ (verses 26-36).

Why did these Jews from Asia oppose Paul? His message was a threat to their world. If Jesus is the Christ, then they would be destroyed along with the pagan nations of the world. If Jesus is the Christ, then their self-righteousness would accomplish nothing in this world or in the next. Is this not true for us? If Jesus is the Christ, then our attempts to lift ourselves above the nations of the world smacks of rebellion against God. If Jesus is the Christ then the sacrifices we make for so many good and even great things pale in significance to witnessing to our neighbor who is lost and going to hell. If Jesus is the Christ then we will be willing to risk our lives to love and forgive one another. If Jesus is the Christ then we will keep his commandments and live for the Kingdom of eternity rather than the kingdom of this earth.

Moral stances swing back and forth. This is especially true of a democracy. What our nation perceives as right today may be wrong tomorrow. Think of the stances of our nation on alcohol. That is the way democracy is. The people decide what is right and wrong. The message, however, of the gospel of Jesus Christ will never change. The attitude of our nation toward the gospel will change from time to time but our gospel will never change.

4. Our national citizenship is a gift from God to be used for service to the gospel of Christ (verses 37-40).

Should we hate what our nation has become? Should we rebel against our nation? Absolutely not, the Bible teaches that we must respect our leadership regardless of who they may be or what they may stand for. There is, however, something positive that we should do. Use our citizenship on earth for the furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have freedom of religion. Let us practice it as soldiers bearing the cross of Christ. We have freedom of speech, let us witness of the gospel to all we can. We have freedom to assemble, let’s attend church every time the assembly is called. We have freedom to vote, let us vote with his gospel first and foremost in our minds. Let us be good citizens. Let us be better Christians.