Rescue Ahead

…only when the Christian charges hell in all its ugliness and fury, is he rescued.

lion fire

Acts 26:17 I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles. I now send you to them

Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas last month bringing with it nearly 10 trillion gallons of water setting records of costly damage. For many who failed to evacuate, rescue was their only hope. From military led chopper rescues to fishermen in their flat-bottom boats, countless responded to the need extracting people from their rooftops, rescuing them from the rising waters.

Normally, that’s how a rescue works. Extraction. Whatever the danger be, whether flood, earthquake, or fire, rescue entails an escape from the danger, an extraction from impending peril.

Imagine for a moment that you’re that person, the one in need standing on the second floor of your house with water at your feet. You’re frantically looking out your upstairs window for a boat when a man swimming in the water appears and speaks to you as he treads. “I want you to walk downstairs. I’ll meet you at your front door. I have a small submarine you can get into.”

Wouldn’t you respond, “Walk downstairs?! I’d have to swim! It’s underwater!”

How ludicrous.

Or imagine that while retreating to your log cabin in Montana,  a forest fire breaks out. You’re surrounded and alone as the encompassing wall of flames slowly encroaches. Suddenly, a chopper appears from the swirling smoke overhead and slowly lowers a man in a carriage. Ah! The relief you feel at the sight of it! Your rescuer steps out of the carriage and before you can jump in, it’s pulled up into the sky disappearing with the chopper.  You look quizzically at the man who stands in front of you with his hand outstretched.  “Uh, what’s your plan?” you ask. “Take my hand,” he says. There’s a pool of water right over there that will keep us safe.” Not seeing anything of the like, you ask, “Where?” He points into the fire. “Just beyond that wall of flames.”

Ludicrous!

Now indulge me once more. Imagine you’re a target, like one those faux deer with a bulls-eye painted on its flank except there’s nothing artificial about you. You’re living flesh and blood. You didn’t use to have this target on you, but it’s there now and it’s been sealed on you in a way that you can never wash it off. It’s a distinguished mark that all can see.  And hunting season has just opened. While you’re working on a way to hide the mark and hide yourself, a man with a bucket of paint appears.  Ah! What a simple rescue! “Put a swath of that paint over this mark of mine, would you? Even a little may save my life.” But the man just begins to paint along the ground at your feet, on your floor, out the sidewalk, down the street. “What are you doing? Where are you going!?”

Not taking his eye from the path he paints, this stranger responds, “Follow this path and I’ll rescue you.”

“Where does it lead?”

“To the hunters’ lodge.”

Ludicrous!

Yet it’s what Jesus instructed Paul. “I will rescue you from your people and the Gentiles. I now send you to them…”

Ludicrous!

It is common sense to assume that a rescue always involves an extraction, but for the Christian, man’s common sense rarely applies.

The rescue for the Christian takes place when he charges into the flood for there and then is a standard raised.

The rescue for the Christian takes place when he charges into the fire, for there and then is a fourth man found.

Likewise, only when the Christian charges hell in all its ugliness and fury, is he rescued; for his rescue is not an extraction by God, but in the presence of God. And where but at the gates of hell where the fires are hot and the flood waters high should we expect to find Him? He is where He is needed. Then and there is God found. Then and there are we rescued.

How ludicrous.  Let’s go.

Kangaroo Court

 Common man in his foolishness believes he can provide his own defense, prove himself innocent or at least show reasonable doubt to avoid conviction.

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Acts 25:7 When he had come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove,

If you like the show Law and Order, you’ve got to love this chapter.  Accusations are levied, bribes are implied, a court is convened, an appeal is made and on the line is life or death.  Paul’s life or death to be specific.  For him, there were two possible courts to judge his case. One was in Jerusalem and the other in Rome. I’m sure Paul’s familiarity with Jerusalem, Jewish customs and the Hebrew language weighed against his decision. But because the Jews were falsely accusing him, he appealed to Caesar to judge his case instead.  This appeal was afforded him only because he was a Roman citizen. And Paul appealed because he knew his citizenship and he knew his rights.

Oh, that we as Christians would know our citizenship and to whom we have a right to appeal!

As Paul’s enemy did in this chapter so also does the enemy of our souls accuse us without proof and then he too works to usher us into his courtroom for a hearing and sentencing.  What we must know is that this courtroom is convened in the mind and its jurors are Doubt, Discouragement, Condemnation, Regret, Worldly Sorrow and Self-Loathing.  Talk about a stacked jury!  Sometimes we’re tricked into thinking that if we just go along, we might come out clean in that twisted scene of Law and Order. Common man in his foolishness believes he can provide his own defense, prove himself innocent or at least show reasonable doubt to avoid conviction.

Paul knew better.

The Jews said they wanted justice in Jerusalem, but verse three reveals their true intent; they were setting an ambush to kill him along the way.

Remember, the devil isn’t interested in justice. He’s interested in an ambush.

And the lost soul who wanders into his kangaroo court would never realize that the best legal ground upon which to stand would be to make that claim of double jeopardy. The guilt and shame of your previous wrongs used to lure you into this devilish defendant’s box were from crimes already tried.  A sentence has already been handed down. The penalty’s been fully paid.  Jesus took it on Himself, once and for all.

If your enemy is accusing you or recalling your past,  remind yourself that you’re a citizen of a greater Kingdom and then do what Paul did; Appeal to the King.

Power Corrupts

Our human nature to avoid loss of power is based in a fear of losing it and whether we wish to admit it or not, our fear of losing it is to be corrupted when we have it.

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Acts 24:[24-26] Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. [25] As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” [26] At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.

We have a 1985 standard transmission Isuzu Trooper gifted to my wife by her grandmother.  This two owner vehicle when purchased new may have had more power than it does today, but I imagine it’s top speed was still about 60 mph just as it is now.  We’ve grown accustomed to having little power in that vehicle. But what I never get used to is heading up a hill in the Ozarks and having to downshift because of a loss of power.  Low power is one thing, but loss of power is another.

What is power?  In physics, we’re taught that power is the amount of work/time. The less time it takes to do an amount of work, the greater the power.  The more work one can do in a set amount of time, the greater the power.   This may be why powerful people are sometimes called “movers and shakers.” Moving and shaking is work! Most of the time, power is used to beget more power.  After all, if I’m moving and shaking, I might as well move and shake that which will make it easier for me to move and shake more in the future. More power.  This tendency in man could be exactly why I hate experiencing a loss of power in our Trooper!

Our human nature to avoid loss of power is based in a fear of losing it and whether we wish to admit it or not, our fear of losing it is to be corrupted when we have it.

No one likes the idea of having been corrupted, but most, either consciously or subconsciously, fear the loss of power – the loss of ability to move and shake things in our sphere of influence.

The acquisition of tools, skills or abilities that enables us to “move and shake” often represent a growing arsenal of power in our personal war-chest. The more we have in the chest, the more we treasure it, the more it corrupts.

Nineteenth century English baron, Lord Acton, was right.

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Félix had power. This Roman governor was once a Greek slave who had been freed and given Roman citizenship. Now appointed in this position of authority in the Roman government, the message Paul spoke of righteousness, self-control and judgment to come represented a threat to Félix’s personal war chest of power.

Paul boasted in weakness, professed he was a slave to all men and described his righteousness as filthy rags. He was not just blinded on the road to Damascus. He was stripped of all pride, prestige and power.  For Félix, it was too much.

“That’s enough for now!” Scripture says he became fearful listening to Paul and sent him away. Fearful of what? A conviction if to which he yielded, would render him powerless. But Felix’s power had a stronghold.  For the two years that followed, he would call Paul in seeking a bribe for his release.

Power begets power. Power corrupts. And power fears its own loss.

But is it not exactly that to which God calls each us? A total loss of power? In what ever way we’ve relied on ourselves, whether it be our skill to convince, our ability to manipulate or our money to influence, God calls us to abandon all reliance on our own power.

Quite simply, man wasn’t intended to have it.

Rev 4:11 reads,

“You are worthy to receive glory and honor and power, because You have created all things and because of your will they exist and were created.”

All power is His. To think we have any is a dangerous misunderstanding of both His ultimate power and His dispensation of grace.

The next time you have to down-shift in life from a loss of power, just know that it wasn’t yours to begin with. He’s the One who moves and shakes things to work together for your good.  He’s the One whose grace abounds in your weakness.  And He’s the One who delivers you in your powerlessness.

 

 

 

 

Prison Break

His righteous anger at the one who hurts you is an invitation for you to resolve your anger issue with Him.

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Acts 23:6 When Paul realized that one part of them were Sadducee(s) and the other part were Pharisees, he cried out in the Sanhedrin, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees! I am being judged because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead! ”

 

Have you ever seen Prison Break? This seasonal drama depicts a number of characters always weaved into a plot with the same climax; breaking out. Never have I seen a show that includes more use of this ancient battle strategy: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.  In fact, it’s easy to get lost in the quick formation of alliances between characters who were enemies in the previous episode. Why? To break out.

Sometimes we should employ the same technique.

This passage reveals Paul’s sharp wisdom.  About to face persecution, he realizes he’s in a room with not just one enemy, but two.  The Pharisees are vitriolic because Paul preached Jesus as Messiah.  The Sadducees because Paul preached Jesus as resurrected.  Paul plays on their difference with this ancient wisdom: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  Though the extent of truth in that shrewdness varies, it was certainly true that while the Sadducees were hostile to Paul’s resurrection theology, the Pharisees were hostile to their hostility.  In verse 6, he employs his tactic:  “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees! I am being judged because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead!”  He stirs it up between these two sects shifting attention from himself and as the fight ensues, the Romans “rescue him.” (vs. 10)

When we find ourselves trapped in the spiritual prison of our own making, we should remember how Paul handled his captivity here.  We may be in that room with more than one enemy, also.

God and the Devil.

I know.  You’re thinking, “It can’t be.”  But James 4:4 warns clearly he who befriends the world makes himself an enemy of God. Ouch. I’m sure glad it never works the other way around. God never makes himself our enemy, but we can sure make Him ours. Our desires and decisions often put us an enmity with God and when we put ourselves at odds with Him, we willfully and ignorantly tag ourselves, “enemy.”  Peace escapes. Joy’s absent. Blessing is gone. We’re trapped.

Enter stage left, the other enemy.

It’s a pretty common theatre, actually.  People who confess Christ but conform to the world are in no short supply.  This culturally acceptable and sometimes subtle idolatrous betrayal turns our greatest ally into our enemy, instead.  And when the other one comes in, he’s free to wreak havoc.  You have two enemies in the room and the options seem bleak.

I’ve met countless people in the middle of that mess when the marriage is falling apart, when the job is lost, when addiction takes captive.  A common response is

“God’s angry with me.”

Well, maybe. But the devil hates you.

Others say, “I’m angry at God.”

Okay. Be angrier at the devil.

It’s time to employ Paul’s wisdom. The enemy of your enemy is your friend.  When you’re in that pinch and you feel you have no friend in the room, just ask this question: “How does God feel about the enemy of my soul and his plan to steal, kill and destroy everything good in my life?”

His righteous anger at the one who hurts you is an invitation for you to resolve your anger issue with Him.

You may have made God an enemy, but it doesn’t change His nature. His nature is to defend, protect, and conquer.   It’s to bless, embrace, and encourage. He’s a rescuer and a restorer and His heart is to make all things new and all things right.  He wants to be your friend.

He is the greatest enemy of your enemy and you can’t afford to be His opponent. He’s your prison break.

So conform not to this world and neither befriend it (James 4:4), but hate it like it hates you (Jn 15:18-19) and be transformed instead by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:2).  Then you’ll know His will for you. It is good, pleasing and perfect.

Uniquely Exclusive

uniquely elite

Acts 22:22 They listened to him up to this word. Then they raised their voices, shouting, “Wipe this person off the earth — it’s a disgrace for him to live! ”

Access to God for all doesn’t devalue personal uniqueness for the one.

With the help of several different people, I’ve finished a mentoring tool called Life Deck.  One of the Life categories in the Deck includes Economics and I pose the question, “If you had the last apple seed on earth, how much do you think it would be worth?” Consider that!  A very limited supply of a high demand product increases its value greatly.  Imagine you’re the owner of that seed.  World leaders, Ivy League universities, highly esteemed scientific institutes, not to mention every farmer would be knocking your door down to make an offer. What wealth and power you would hold in the palm of your hand!

The Bible tells us it was for envy that the Jews crucified Jesus.  Until He came, they controlled a commodity limited to a specific people.  It’s designation to the Jews and more specifically to the Jewish leaders created an elite group who had access to something of great value; God. When Christ arrived on the scene and offered access to God, once and for all, the Jews were maddened!  It was as if someone pulled up in your port with a freight-liner full of apple seeds.  Suddenly, the power and wealth you had in your hand is no longer revered as something invaluable.  A strange envy struck the hearts of the Pharisees and they crucified the Captain of that freight-liner with an intent to then sink the ship.

They couldn’t do it.

In this passage, Paul is addressing his people.  Although an angry mob, he settles them, capturing their attention in Hebrew. He shares his testimony, his encounter with the Messiah on the road to Damascus, the bright light that blinded him.  They’re all listening.  From their perspective, Paul, once a zealot for the Jewish-led persecution of Christians, seems full of a new light and passion. I wonder as he continued sharing the miraculous restoration of his vision at Ananias’ hand, did some in the crowd wonder if this new power might be for them? Could this transformed life be the next evolutionary phase for the exclusive seed they’d held in their hands since Abraham?

Paul wrecks that hope.

In verse 21, he’s clear. The apple seed is for everyone. The next verse? “They listened to him up to this word.”  The mob reverted, “Sink the ship!”

Really? Does access to God for all make the access less valuable? Basic economics would say so. But consider it this way:

All the world has headphones and music is piped in. Every person’s music is limited to percussion instruments. Pianos, drums, xylophones, and the like.  That’s it.  No strings, no horns, nothing synthesized. But yours are different. You’re the only one who has access to the full gamut. Your headphones are the only ones on earth that give the full range of music.  What you hear, no one else hears. It’s exclusively yours.  Back to that apple seed analogy, right?  The value of your headphones is through the roof.  Then, Pandora shows up with some cool app that transforms everyone’s headphones to be just like yours. Suddenly the uniqueness and value of your set bottoms out.

Now imagine you’re walking down the street listening to that Mozart score that used to jazz you up, except now your head is dropped, you’re directionless and apathetic, knowing that what you’re listening to – it’s nothing unique.

Then suddenly there’s a voice that comes in through the earpieces.  It’s one you’ve never heard before and the most shocking aspect is that it speaks your name.  The voice begins to talk with you about things of your past, times you had forgotten, issues of your heart you could never fully understand and reveals aspects of your future you’ve never even considered.  A stranger passes you and in the shock of the moment, you grab him by the shoulder, startling him.  He takes off his headphones.

“Whoa man! What the heck!”

“Sorry, sorry. I just started hearing a voice through my headphones and it said my name and told me…” You share the details of what you heard with this stranger before asking, “Do you hear the same thing in your headphones?” 

“No. Nothing like that. I hear my name, not yours. And the other things you mentioned? They don’t sound like anything I hear.  That’s incredibly unique.

You put your buds back in and bebop down the street with a new energy, realizing no one else has headphones like yours.  And as the Voice continues to dialogue with you, you realize there’s no amount that could ever be offered to cause you to give them up.

The Voice confirms it. You’re one of a kind, specially crafted, invaluable.

Access to God for all doesn’t devalue personal uniqueness for the one. That’s the beauty of a personal relationship with an omnipresent God; it’s priceless for every one even if everyone has it.

Uniquely exclusive.

 

 

 

Religious Freedom

religous freedom

Acts 21:26 Then the next day, Paul took the men, having purified himself along with them, and entered the temple, announcing the completion of the purification days when the offering for each of them would be made.

…whatever portion of life that is bound to some master, it is a portion that cannot be laid down for the sake of another.

Recently, my wife and I were in a catholic ceremony. What a difference from the typical protestant gathering we’re used to! Smoking incense, candles, holy water and a lot of kneeling reminded me I was really out of my element.  Then, communion time came.  As non-catholic protestants, we were instructed to simply come to the front and cross our hands over our chests to signal the priest to give a blessing rather than the bread and cup. The thoughts that raced through my mind were things like “Why should I? I’m a Christian, too! Never! I’m not going up there!” Truthfully, the relative legalism offended my carnal nature.  But if I’m really free from the law, should it have?

Paul had already made clear that he was free from the law, but in Acts 21 he adheres to it “to win the more.” Did he compromise principle in doing so? No. Compromising principle is to sin in one’s heart and for the one who is free from the law, there is no sin in freely adhering to it. How, in this new covenant in which all things are lawful (1 Cor 6:12) could the law be unlawful? How in this new covenant in which all things are lawful could worship with no instruments be unlawful? Or non-immersive baptism be unlawful? Or a kosher diet? Or for that matter, a protestant in a catholic ceremony?  If I am rigid that I will not do any of these things or any other practices that are not aligned with the new liberty in which I live, then my freedom has become dogma, a human tradition, an idol of sorts.  The sign of liberty idolized is its imposition on another by the one who claims to have it. But liberty can never be imposed. It can only be discovered. And only pride turns the discovery of liberty into dogma. Liberty is not to be worshiped nor imposed but discovered and embraced. It can never be enforced even in one’s own life for the mere posture of submission to liberty begins a process of altering its DNA, its essence, into law.

If we are not free to practice those things to which we are not bound, are we really free?

Now a discussion must be had concerning the connection between liberty and love for it is only in the fullness of liberty that we can choose to make ourselves slaves to men. If we are bound in any way, then we are not free and if we are not free, we are slaves to something and if slaves to one master then how free are we to choose another?  And if we willfully choose to become all things to only some men (but not those under the law), then we have certainly bound love by our own legalism!  So, the fullness of liberty becomes the power to love fully; for whatever portion of life that is bound to some master, it is a portion that cannot be laid down for the sake of another. Herein is revealed the mystery of the apparent paradox, “law of liberty” written twice by James. Both instances are in the context of love.  James is not arguing for liberty to be law any more than one standing under the sun expects to cast a white shadow.  No, his paradox is to bring attention to the religious reader that when law interferes with love, a new way must be sought. This new “law of liberty” is not a law at all, but rather the lawfulness of all things, the freedom of conscience from all guilt, shame, fear and everything else that is self. And there, in that place of absolute stark liberation, love abounds.

That’s the liberty that allowed us to approach the priest with our arms crossed over our chests.  That’s the liberty that worked in conjunction with our love for the Catholics who had invited us.

Those who tout they dawned upon liberty often make it a trophy showcased in spiritual pride, then justify it by demanding that everyone else have the same reward. But for those upon whom liberty dawned, they’re simply set free. There is no trophy, but only love.

 

Blissful Blindness

blissful blindness

Acts 20:22   And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem without knowing what will happen to me there, [23] except that the Holy Spirit warns me in town after town that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. [24] But I do not consider my life worth anything to myself, so that I may finish my task and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.

…self-preservation is oft the root of denial while self-denial is oft the root of ultimate preservation.

I remember an exciting Saturday night in the Upper Room of our mission years ago. The praise and worship was rich. People were genuinely excited about a move of God.  The room was packed with expectants. One man came up to me and spoke prophetically, “God is pleased with your work and a 2 million dollar donation is coming in for your ministry.”  I haven’t seen that donation yet but I must admit it sure was easy to believe for that! What if God would have spoken to me that night as He did to Paul in this passage? Rather than a promise of 2 million dollars, a one way trip to hardship and persecution?  Would I have believed that so easily? If I’m honest with myself, I probably would have denied it.  Why? Because denial ignores an unwanted end.

Denial is a common psychological response to impending and unavoidable bad news.  A person in the process of failing is heading toward an F. Denial ignores the end. A criminal may maintain his innocence even when proven guilty. Denial ignores the end. A person receives a terminal diagnosis. Again, denial ignores the end.

But denial also fails to mitigate.

Renewed effort. A change in strategy. Revived prayer. There are often ways to mitigate or make the most of an unavoidable situation, if we’re not in denial.

Now put yourself in Paul’s shoes.  God speaks to you in a personal whisper of sorts, “You must go to Jerusalem where you will be persecuted and imprisoned.” What’s your response? “Get that crazy voice out of my head” or maybe you tell Siri, “Navigate me to anywhere but Jerusalem.” Denial. After all, would God ever compel you into harm’s way?

He did Paul.

The Holy Spirit “warns” him in town after town (v 23). It wasn’t a warning that Paul should turn aside or change his direction for He was also “compelled” (v. 22) by the same Spirit to press on toward Jerusalem where that persecution awaited. This truth, that he was both warned but compelled calls for answers to these questions: What then was the purpose of the warning and how or why was Paul able to hear it?

If God’s warning is not for you to engage in evasive maneuvers, what then is it for? It must be for the purpose of preparation, an encouragement to consider how you should respond when the time comes that you must respond, to keep your head up and your eyes open as you enter into that fire to which you’re called.  If denial is a blissful blindness brought on by the subconscious, then it blinds you to the fire you’re facing.  And if you can’t see the fire you’re about to walk into, it’s much easier to believe it’s not there.  But if, in those cases when that fire is inevitable, you don’t believe you’re about to enter it, you sure won’t know what to do when you get there.

If it’s certain you’re going in, don’t do it with your eyes closed.

Paul was getting the warning.  He wasn’t in denial. He knew the fire was ahead.  What was that character attribute of Paul that gave him ears to hear? Why didn’t he fall into denial like most would have?  Paul gives us the answer when he links cause to the effect of finishing his “task” (vs. 24).  “But I do not consider my life worth anything to myself, so that I may finish my task.”

It’s a strange paradox that self-preservation is oft the root of denial while self-denial is oft the root of ultimate preservation. Consider Jesus’ words in John 12:25: He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.  

Paul thought nothing of his life in this world.  His reckless abandonment of temporal comfort and pleasure for the eternal crown of life allowed him to hear clearly what God was calling him into.  In spite of warnings and friends who pleaded with him not to go, he stayed on track with God’s will and entered the fire with his head up, his eyes open and with a determination to glorify God in it all.

Yeah, let’s be like that.