Mere Display

…our Sunday morning attendance, clean language and public charity may be displayed, but only when such stems from true worship, a clean mind and real compassion is the display then also the fruit of who we truly are.

Romans 2:28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. [29] On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart — by the Spirit, not the letter. That man’s praise is not from men but from God.

When you crave Mexican food, what do you look for?  Usually, a sign with some Spanish word under which is “Mexican Restaurant.” Right? Imagine pulling in, and as you walk under the awning to the front door, the festive music from inside grows louder. You pass a manikin with a sombrero and a poncho holding a sign that says, “Hola!” You step inside and before the hostess greets you, you notice a chalkboard advertising the special of the day, “Burrito Magnifico Lunch Special $7.95.”  The hostess escorts your party to a booth and as you take in the décor of warm southwest pastels, your waiter arrives asking for a drink order.  “Water for now. Could we get some chips and salsa?” Your waiter very plainly responds, “We don’t serve chips and salsa.” He then hands you menus and promises to return with your drinks shortly. No chips and salsa? What kind of a Mexican restaurant is this? You’ve got to shrug this off and the colorful menu with enticing pictures of Mexican entrees helps. Your waiter returns and you eagerly place your order for fajitas. “I’m sorry, sir. We don’t have those.”  Disappointed, you go for your second choice, chile rellenos.  Again, the waiter lets you down.  Disdained, you huff, “Just give me the lunch special.”

“The Burrito Magnifico?” the waiter confirms. Before you can nod, he follows, “I’m sorry. We don’t have that either.” Exasperated, you close your menu. “Well, what do you have?”

“Sir, we have a kitchen full of Italians.  They make a mean cannoli.”

Although I’m sure this fictional story has never unfolded, I believe a 1st century version of it may have resonated with the apostle Paul as he penned Romans 2; specifically, that what we display outwardly is not always what we are inwardly. “A person is not a Jew who is one outwardly… a person is a Jew who is one inwardly.” The sign said Mexican Restaurant. The music sang, “Mexican Restaurant.” The décor and the menu lead you to believe nothing but “Mexican Restaurant.” But inwardly, it was an Italian Restaurant! Regardless of what was displayed outwardly, the kitchen had no ability to produce Mexican food. What is it when that which is produced is different from what is displayed? A breach of integrity. Let me put it another way: Integrity is to display no more than what’s truly produced.

Consider it for a moment. If you purchase roofing shingles advertised to last 20 years but are only manufactured to last 5, there’s an inconsistency between what’s displayed and what’s produced. It’s an integrity issue. If you take a job with a company that has a core value of “Family First” but requires you to be at the office every weekend, you’ll grow discouraged by the inconsistency between the value that was displayed and the work culture that’s actually produced.

There are endless examples of mismatches between what is seen (the outward display) and what is actually produced. Jesus is clear that what is produced from the tree identifies the tree. Even if the fig tree that Jesus noted to bear no fruit was decorated with apple ornaments, it doesn’t change it from a fig tree. It’s still to be cursed.

Paul makes it clear to the Jews in Rome that the outward display of circumcision and other practices in adherence with the law are not the real fruit of righteousness.  Similarly, our Sunday morning attendance, clean language and public charity may be displayed, but only when such stems from true worship, a clean mind and real compassion is the display then also the fruit of who we truly are.


Mere Acknowledgement

Although God wants more than a relationship of mere acknowledgement, it is that bare minimum God-consciousness that serves as a life-line for any relationship at all.

mere acknowledgement

Romans 1:28 And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a worthless mind to do what is morally wrong.

In a 1990 movie, The Ghost, Patrick Swayze played a character that dies and then desperately tries to reconnect with the still living love of his life.  If I remember this decades old movie correctly, he eventually breaks through and she becomes aware of his presence.  For a moment imagine you’re there on the other side hoping for acknowledgement from the living. But in this new version, you never make contact. No matter how many clues you plant or messages you send, there’s never an acknowledgment.  What would you do? You’d probably move on. It might be difficult to consider that God moves on when we don’t acknowledge Him, but read Romans 1:28.

I’ve written before that the foundation of relationship is need, but the first, primary action from that foundation is acknowledgement.  Consider the child who needs his or her parent. When the parent walks in the room, is there not mutual acknowledgement?  The roots of the word translate literally “to admit recognition.” What if the child never acknowledges the parent? What if the parent never acknowledges the child? Relationship without basic mutual acknowledgement is short-lived and although God wants more than a relationship of mere acknowledgement, it is that bare minimum God-consciousness that serves as a life-line for any relationship at all.  What happens if we quit acknowledging God?  He hands us over. To what?

Romans 1 spells out the disaster:

unrighteousness, evil, greed, wickedness, envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, malice, gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful.

Regularly, there’s a news piece revealing some corrupt use of power, a crime of sexual abuse, another immoral scandal. It seems these dark outcomes listed in Romans 1 are very present day. Could it be that as our modern society advances, we’re drifting away from the mere acknowledgement of God.

Is there any excuse?

Romans 1:20 For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.

My wife and I met a nice elderly lady at a restaurant in SW Florida not long ago.  She had ordered a bloody Mary and was trying to figure something out on her smart phone.  She asked me for help. Within a couple of minutes, God came up in our conversation.  She said she was catholic but not practicing.  I could see she felt a bit convicted about it.  There were two things I took away from our 5 minute conversation. She was kind and she at least acknowledged God.  Is she born again and heaven bound? We didn’t talk that long. I do know this.  She was civil, and it’s civility we are losing in American culture today.

Tocqueville argued that free and civil societies depend on morality and morality on religion. Consider his words from Democracy in America:

“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

Let’s be glad for every church on every corner, every cross we see, every statue of a saint that still stands, every placard of the ten commandments, every “In God We Trust” printed on our currency. It all says, “God, we acknowledge You.”

In the absence of this mere God-consciousness, depravity reigns. But with it, at least, civility is retained.

Unpopular Power

Only when the power of a personal experience exceeds the power of popularity does one persist in proclaiming the unpopular.


Acts 28:22 But we would like to hear from you what you think. For concerning this sect, we are aware that it is spoken against everywhere.

When I was a school kid, I believed in sitting on the front row. I believed in math and science. I believed in straight A’s.  I believed in a lot that made me really unpopular. I can still recall the feelings of rejection and insecurity. Seventh grade was the pinnacle of this ostracizing and it’s when I turned.  I grew tired of being the kid who was spoken against because of what he believed.  So, my belief changed. I started believing in running with the wrong crowd, sneaking out of my house at night, drinking and smoking. Why? The power of popularity.  It’s still something that works on me, but to some degree, I think it works on us all.  We all want to be accepted, to be affirmed, to be loved. The power of that innate desire is enough to cause many to reject what they believe, to ignore personal conviction, to repress truth.

Oh, how I admire Paul! He was a man rejected and here we learn the very thing he believed and professed was “spoken against everywhere.” Everywhere? Talk about unpopularity!

Remember speech class.  Hated it, right?  The nervousness of thinking that everyone would laugh at you or think less of you after you fumbled your words and forgot what you’re supposed to say.  Put yourself there again, except this time the crowd is full of people who are a lot like you.  For me, that would have been a bunch of kids who liked math and science and sitting on the front row. For you, maybe the same, or maybe it would have been a room full of football quarterbacks or cheer leaders. Every one of them is as qualified as you to make the address, but you’re the one and as you take the stage, you begin your persuasive speech.  Your worst fears come true. Some get up and walk out, some sneer, some just laugh.  Could you imagine ever trying that speech a second time?

Only when the power of a personal experience exceeds the power of popularity does one persist in proclaiming the unpopular.

And for Paul, it had.  The persuasive speech was the Gospel, a Roman prison his stage and Jewish peers his audience.  Some walked out, some sneered and I’m sure some laughed at the ludicrous message of the Jewish Messiah a lowly carpenter who not only failed to conquer Roman rule, but was crucified at their hands. Does that sound like a powerful King? But Paul had experienced the power. A light blinded him. A voice boomed from heaven. Scales fell from his eyes.  The power of his personal experience literally bound him to preach the Gospel regardless of its unpopularity.

Two thousand years later in our western culture, the Message still seems ludicrous to many and it seems fewer are preaching it with power. Maybe each of us should pray for a deeper and more powerful encounter; our own blinding light, a voice from heaven and a personal miracle. The power of the experience may compel us with a new conviction and passion to preach an unpopular message in a popular world.

The Contrast of a Leader

“Men, I can see this voyage is headed for damage and heavy loss.” The Apostle Paul

The spiritual faith of a leader must supersede the reality he knows.

ship sunk.jpg

Acts 27:30 Some sailors tried to escape from the ship; they had let down the skiff into the sea, pretending that they were going to put out anchors from the bow.

I’m not sure who called the media, but the newscast was less than favorable. A local businessman, John, was painted as cruel and heartless after asking a large group of homeless to leave his property. They had lived there for some time supported by a ministry that had garnered permission to use John’s modular homes for homeless shelter. But the ministry had disbanded leaving the homeless on this man’s property to fend for themselves. John called me asking if I could help. He was being lambasted publicly by the news for telling them to leave and yet knew he couldn’t allow the homeless camp to grow on his property without proper supervision.  I agreed to help and a team from our mission took over with a timeline to close down the operation.

I’ll never forget walking into the administration offices of this ministry. The food, files, copiers, and Christian paraphernalia appeared to have been abandoned in a hurry. The leadership had simply walked out the door.  They jumped ship!  And John, myself and our team were left to deal with it as it sank.

This chapter deals directly with leadership.

First, consider Paul’s example. He is one among three groups traveling to Rome. There are sailors, soldiers, and prisoners.  Within each of these groups, there’s certainly a leadership structure in place. Even among the prisoners, a pecking order of sorts is common. Yet, Paul, belonging to the group of prisoners speaks boldly to all: “Men, I can see this voyage is headed for damage and heavy loss.” Scripture tells us the majority decided otherwise.

Lesson 1: The voice of a leader isn’t swayed by a majority of other voices.

Of these three groups – the prisoners, the soldiers and the sailors – which one had the responsibility to lead the ship safely to shore? The sailors, of course.  And yet, it is this very group that drops the skiff to escape the ship’s destruction. Knowing the structural integrity of your “ship” whether that be a ministry, a school or a business is certainly one responsibility of a leader.  When that integrity is challenged ignorance can be bliss, but for the leader who has a greater understanding of the stresses his or her ship can sustain, the knowledge of it can be a source of fear.  These sailors knew the ship was doomed and the fear of it drove them to an escape-attempt…from their ultimate responsibility.

Lesson 2: The spiritual faith of a leader must supersede the reality he knows.

Through all of this, Paul is instructing and encouraging.  He guides the centurion to cut the skiff free. He encourages the men to eat. He give thanks to God after 14 days of being lost and tossed in a violent sea.  Consider his demeanor.  What would yours be like?  When it seems the ship is going down, how will you respond? Unfortunately panic is typical.  Consider, though, that panic is almost always a self-centered response.  This type of heightened worry stems from a fear of personal loss, maybe even loss of life. Look again at Paul’s focus. He’s concerned about others; specifically, their safety, their strength and their state of mind.

Lesson 3: The focus of a leader must be  on those he serves more than on himself. Panic is not an option.

The many reasoned why they should set sail from Crete, why they should jump ship in the storm, and why they should give up hope in the end.

Paul voiced what he believed, acted on it and then enjoined others in his peace and confidence.

The contrast of a leader.

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.”


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.”


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


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.

Kangaroo Court.jpg

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.



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.