Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Every man dies... but not every man really lives!"

"He lived there 2 whole years at his own expense an welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance."  
(Acts 28:30-31)

BRAVEHEART is one of my top 10 movies.  It's full of courage, battles, romance, intrigue, passion & lots of action!  The one line that's consistently remembered from it, however, comes near the very end.  William Wallace (the lead) has finally been arrested & is facing execution for treason.  When an influential friend comes to plead for him to beg the king for mercy, he says he won't.  "But you'll die.  It will be awful," she protests.  "Every man dies," he replies... "But not every man really lives."

Never has that saying been so true as with the life of Paul.  A man who lived 110% all his days - from his Jesus-hating early years of persecuting the Believers... to his record-setting church-planting later days of Christian mission work - Paul gave his all.

I was reading the end of the book of ACTS today.  Paul had quite a harrowing ordeal at sea - storms, shipwreck, snake attack, & finally safety.  It's the stuff of a good movie!  But the end seemed a bit disappointing (at least from a cinematic standpoint).  It read: "He lived there 2 whole years at his own expense an welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance."  I wanted to know about his death.  How'd he die?  What happened?  Was it awful or did he go peacefully?  Paul eventually was executed, but we hear nothing of it in the New Testament.  Why?

I think we should go back to William Wallace for insight.  "Every man dies... but not every man really lives."  Paul wasn't worried about dying.  He wasn't concerned about it in the least.  He'd entrusted himself to God's care.  He WAS concerned with how he LIVED!  And even in prison - every held on trumped-up charges - even thousands of miles away from home, he proclaimed the gospel and told others about Jesus.  Right up to the very end. 

That's what it means to truly live.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Strengthen my hands..."

"Then I sent him a letter, saying, 'No such things as you say have been done; you are inventing them out of your own mind' - for they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, 'Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.'  But now, O God, strengthen my hands."
(Nehemiah 6:8-9)

Nehemiah & a band of Israelites have returned from Babylonian captivity and are attempting to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem.  This was a very good thing for the people of Israel, but their "enemies" were not happy one bit.  Nehemiah tells us that "Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab" in particular were upset at these developments.  They tried to lure Nehemiah away from the city to do him harm.  They tried to get him to run afraid into the Temple, to smear his reputation among his own people.  They even tried making false testimony against him to the Babylonian king.  But Nehemiah wouldn't budget.  He recognized it for what it truly was - attempts to get him to stop the project.  In the end, Nehemiah resolutely prays, "But now, O God, strengthen my hands."

I love that short prayer!  Seven words.  One message.  "But now, O God, strengthen my hands."  The Bible tells us over and over that the ways of God will be opposed by others.  It happens all the time.  So first, let us not be surprised when it does happen!  We should expect conflict & opposition.  Second, don't let it get us down!  If what we are doing is truly a "God thing," then take courage and pray that God will strengthen our hands... no matter what we may be up against!

For all that you are calling me to do at Aiea UMC... Lord, strengthen my hands.
For all that you are calling me to do in my family... Lord, strengthen my hands.
For all that you are calling me to change in my own heart... Lord, strengthen my hands.
For who you are calling me to be in the world around me... Lord, strengthen my hands.

We wanted soldiers, but...

[From December 9, 2011]

"Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might deny ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our possessions."
(Ezra 8:21) 

The phrase, 'The Lord works in mysterious ways' is used quite a bit among the faithful... usually because it's so true!  Today's reading from Ezra 7-8 is a prime example.  Many Israelites had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians and forced to remain there for close to 70 years.  Their eventual return came in four stages: Sheshbazzar's group (when Cyrus was king)... Zerubbabel & Jeshua's group (when Darius I was king)... Ezra's group (when Artaxerxes I was king)... and Nehemiah's group (Artaxerxes II was king).

Today I was reading about the 3rd group - led by Ezra.  King Artaxerxes not only allowed them to return to Israel, but gave them money to buy "worship supplies" (animals for sacrifice, etc.) and a letter instructing other Babylonian treasuries to give them additional funds, if needed.

Before setting out, Ezra did a couple of things I think are excellent.  First, he gave thanks: "Blessed be the LORD, the God of our ancestors, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king to glorify the house of the LORD in Jerusalem..."  Second, he gathered the people together before leaving, and called them to fast and pray for their safe return to Jerusalem.  That's not really surprising, as this happens many times in Scripture.  But the candor expressed by Ezra is!  He writes, "For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king that the hand of our God is gracious to all who seek him, but his power and his wrath are against all who forsake him."

I love that!  He wanted a guard of soldiers for protection... but that would contradict his earlier testimony to the King about God's provision!  So instead, Ezra called the people to fast & pray.  God works in mysterious ways - to call us to a life of faithfulness.

As Christians... as leaders... as people of faith... we may not always have "saint-like" belief.  We can struggle and doubt with the best of them.  But will it draw us closer to God in the end?  Will it bring us to the LORD in prayer?  Will we deny ourselves (and our trust in our strength/ability to accomplish our plans) and seek God's favor (and strength!)?  Because that's what ultimately matters.

(Oh yah, Ezra & Co. eventually made it home safely.  Praise the Lord!)

Look Who's Coming for Christmas?

[From Dec. 2, 2011]

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!  Lo, your King comes to you; triumphant & victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the Earth."
(Zechariah 9:9-10)

Normally this passage is read on Palm Sunday... announcing Jesus' entry into Jerusalem during the final week of his life.  But I'm reading it during ADVENT.  I'm trying to prepare my heart for Christmas - the coming of a Savior.  In both seasons (Lent/Easter and Christmas), Jesus comes as a surprise to many.  We like our heroes to be strong, bold, brave, confident, valiant, sure, aggressive, and uncompromising.  Jesus has those qualities, sure... but not in the way we expect.  He comes with humility to "command peace to the nations."  Zechariah mentions this king as silencing the battle cry within Israel (Ephraim chariots and Jerusalem war-horses).  Much of the work of the Messiah happens within us - not to our enemies.  Are WE really ready to be changed this Christmas?


[From Nov. 30, 2011]

"Jerusalem shall be inhabited like villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and animals in it.  For I will be a wall of fire all around it, says the Lord, and I will be the glory within it."
(Zechariah 2:4b-5)

When we spent a month in England, we had the pleasure of visiting the city of York.  York is known for being one of the remaining "walled cities" in the UK.  Back in the day, it was crucial for a city to be walled - for protection, safety, and security.  Those outside the walls were extremely vulnerable to attack.

The prophet Zechariah knows about walled cities.  God grants him a vision (a man with a measuring line) and tells him that Jerusalem shall be "like villages without walls."  God will be "a wall of fire" around it.  They won't have to worry about protection and defense - God has their back!  Can you imagine the weight off their shoulders with news like that?  Now they're free to do things like draw closer to God and be about God's business of reconciliation and peace.  What a gift!

What would it mean for us to drop our "walls of defense & protection"?  What if we gave up trying to plan out our safety net of retirement, and instead focused on what God wanted us to be focusing on - His kingdom here and now... all around us!?!