Doing the Right Good

the-right-good

Acts 16:6-10  They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia and were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.  So, bypassing Mysia, they came down to Troas.  During the night a vision appeared to Paul: A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us! ”  After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.

Past the most good you want to do but shouldn’t, is the right good you should. And that’s the good that makes the difference God intends.

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”

Really?

This quote is often attributed to John Wesley but there are scholars who doubt he ever said it. Wesley was born in 1703 and at age 35, experienced a radical conversion. He later founded Methodism. He was certainly a hero of the faith and a diligent student of Scripture. I doubt he said it, too.

There’s a lot more to right charity than doing all the good you can muster. It certainly feels good to give and sacrificial giving is good but our key passage in chapter 16 indicates there might be a right time to do good. And if there’s a right time, there’s also a wrong time. It’s hard to argue that doing good at the wrong time is a good idea.

Some believe this immoderate altruistic statement is what inspired Catherine Booth to say, “There is no reward equal to that of doing the most good to the most people in the most need.” Yes, this is where Salvation Army got its tagline of “Doing the most good.” I have a true admiration for the founders of the Salvation Army and am thankful for much of their work today. However, I believe there’s a difference between doing the most good and doing the right good.

Few Christians would argue that the gospel of forgiveness, salvation and redemption is at the base of all good. To preach that good news is certainly to do good. Yet, the Spirit “prevented” the apostles from just that. In obedience to God’s direction, they passed by people to whom they could have preached the good news! Why? Because it wasn’t the right good to do. Wrong time? Wrong people? Wrong place? We don’t know. All we know is that in this instance, it would have been wrong to do the all the good you can to all the people you can.

They passed by doing what all would think good to do. Preach the gospel. What they couldn’t see is that as they bypassed Phyrgia, Galatia, and Mysia, there waited a lady named Lydia, a demon possessed slave girl, an earthquake and a midnight prison break that would spark a fire of revival throughout Macedonia.

We should learn from this. Past the most good you want to do but shouldn’t, is the right good you should. And that’s the good that makes the difference God intends.

Catherine Booth was right. There is a great reward in doing good. But the greatest reward is not in helping the most poor. It’s in glorifying God.  And if your desire to help others exceeds your desire for Him, you’ll miss His mission for you only to find yourself doing the most good instead of the right good.

Uncommon Sense

uncommon

Acts 15:28  For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision — and ours — to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things

How often does our common sense lead us to Jesus’ uncommon actions?

 

After leaving the Navy as a computer analyst, Grace Hopper developed Flow-Matic that would later evolve into COBAL, the first well-known computer programming language. Born in 1906, she was a peculiar child dismantling several alarm clocks at age seven to understand their inner-workings. When her mother discovered what she was doing, she restricted Grace to one only for experimentation. She was an unconventional innovator and leader who would later keep a wall clock in her office that ran counter-clockwise. No wonder she’s the one to whom this encouragement is attributed: “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”

Wonder if that ever got her in trouble?

It’s gotten me in trouble. I remember completing our women’s shelter addition at the mission with an open-date right around the corner. Problem was I had been practicing Grace’s recommendation. We had plans drawn up by an architect, stamped by an engineer, approved by the City but because of cost and what I thought to be common sense, I deviated a bit from the plans. The fire marshal didn’t like the deviation. On inspection, I was told that extra sprinklers would have to be placed above every ceiling tile in the women’s dorm unit before we could open. Sometimes it might be easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission. Sometimes it isn’t.

It’s the reason most of us don’t like consulting authority. There’s a chance the authority will disagree. It’s why we like to lean on our own understanding. To us, it’s what makes the most sense. Unfortunately, I think what’s common sense to us is too commonly wrong. In a world too complex to figure out, why would we lean on our own understanding? Because consulting with authority always comes with the risk of disagreement.

A new and powerful faith, Christianity, was gripping eastern Europe, its rapid advancement amazing everyone, the apostles included.  They knew the new movement was completely dependent on God and they wanted to be in agreement with Him. Always. With no precedent to follow, no rule book to guide them, they consulted the Holy Spirit in every strategic decision. I’m sure what they thought to be common sense was often corrected after consulting God. Apparently, this instance was remarkable and they noted it, “For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision – and ours -”

Wow! They consulted God with what they thought was the right thing to do and discovered He was in agreement with their thought. Worth noting, obviously.

What would life be like for us if we consulted God rather than just using our common sense? How much common sense did Jesus use? He touched lepers, sent His friends into storms, drew crowds far away with no food to feed them, enjoyed dinner with thieves, loved prostitutes and didn’t seem to care that Lazarus was about to die. How often does our common sense lead us to Jesus’ uncommon actions?

Most of the time, we operate under Grace Hopper’s rule, asking for forgiveness after we’ve messed something up rather than asking permission before we do it.  Wouldn’t we be better off if we checked our common sense at the door, consulted with the Authority, and then operated by His uncommon sense instead?

 

Committed

committed

Acts 14:21 After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God.”

The greatest commitment is not in the most sincere pledge to do something, but in the acknowledgement that there is absolutely no other way to do something that absolutely must be done.

Just before 8 am on Sunday morning December 7, 1941, a fleet of Japanase war planes descended on Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack on the United States Navy. Japan had declared war on America. Italy and Germany immediately followed. Every American realized that a stateside invasion was imminent and that there was only one route to preserve our freedom. Fight.

The war effort that ensued would create one of the strongest fighting forces in history. Why? Because we were committed.

Sometimes, we commit ourselves. Other times, we’re committed.

I was committed once. To solitary confinement as a juvenile. No way out. No escape. No other choice.

In the second world war, Japan committed us to the fight like the law committed me to jail. No way out. No escape. No other choice. We had to fight.

What’s the difference between making a commitment and being committed? None really. If your commitment is real, it doesn’t matter whether you made it or if someone else made it for you. No way out. No escape. No other choice. You’re committed.

The residents of Lystra had pummeled Paul with rocks, dragged him out of the city and left him for dead. The next day, he went back into the same city. What commitment!

The other disciples were committed, too. How do we know?

Because our key verse tells us that when Paul told them about times of great trouble on the route ahead, they were “strengthened.” Sounds kind of crazy, doesn’t it? Who’s strengthened when they hear bad news?!

The committed.

Consider the connection between strength and commitment.

When there’s no way out, no escape, no other choice; you strengthen yourself for the only road ahead. For the disciples, there was only one route to heaven and regardless of the trials awaiting them, it was the only route for these committed soldiers.

They were strengthened for the trials because they were committed to the route.

You’re only strengthened before the fire if you’re committed to go through it.

The alternative? Avoidance. It’s the bypass of the uncommitted. Is God calling you to move somewhere you don’t want to? Is He prodding you to change jobs to something that pays less? Is He convicting you to sacrifice comfort or maybe stick to a mission that’s difficult or even dangerous? The option of avoidance is the absence of commitment. They’re mutually exclusive. Full commitment means there’s no other route. And the avoidance option means there’s no real commitment.

Paul called himself a slave of Christ. Had he made a commitment or had he been committed? No way out. No escape. No other choice. Go ahead. Tell God you want to be fully committed. You’ll find that your relationships, your character and your faith will be strengthened, too.

Opportunity’s Potential

opportunity

Acts 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they rejoiced and glorified the message of the Lord, and all who had been appointed to eternal life believed.

It’s a dangerous thing to believe God doesn’t want you.

Every Monday evening, a team of people leave our mission to visit homeless in camps and people in their humble homes. And every Monday night, we pray for divine appointments. Is there such a thing as a divine appointment? I could share countless stories that testify to that truth. But a divine appointment is only a setup, a God-opportunity and our actions have much to do with whether those opportunities are missed or not.

I understood opportunity from a different perspective as a wound care specialist. For 10 years, I treated spider bites, dog bites, diabetic wounds, vascular wounds, burns and pressure ulcers. Some of them were pretty straightforward. Some were complex. And some were infected. Infections happen because of opportunity.

An opportunistic infection occurs when a microbe has an opportunity it normally doesn’t have like a host with a depressed immune system or a break in the skin.

No matter how ready the microbe is to infect, its “success” is dependent on circumstances external to itself.

Opportunity is just that: The potential to benefit at the moment when external circumstances and internal readiness are aligned.

Potential is a key word in that definition. External circumstances can be just right and you can still choose to do nothing. Potential doesn’t mean something actually happens. Sometimes potential is never actualized. That’s called opportunity missed!

This scripture is remarkable because on this particular day of salvation, no opportunity was missed. The external circumstances were optimal and all those who were readied internally said “Yes!” Paul, anointed by the Holy Spirit, planted seeds in every heart ready to receive and when God’s conviction swept over the crowd, all who were appointed were saved.

Some might argue from this scripture that God appoints some to salvation and others to hell, that this verse supports an argument for predestined election. It’s a dangerous thing to believe God doesn’t want you, not to mention antithetical to what scripture teaches about His love for every person.  It’s much more reasonable to assume that the divine appointment for salvation comes at different times for different people. Not every one in that crowd had an appointment on that day.

(This morning, my wife drew a mental picture of a God-sized appointment book. On any calendar day, there are specific names written on the schedule. They each have an appointment with Him. For those, that day truly is the day of salvation. Will all say yes? Unlikely.  What does God do with those who missed their appointment? Erase them? X them out?  Or does He reschedule them? How many times do you think you were rescheduled before you showed up to meet Him?  Personally, I’m so thankful He’s a re-scheduler!)

Not only are there implications of God’s nature to provide different and distinct opportunities to be saved, but there are implications about our involvement in the process!

Let’s talk about infection again.  The risk for infection is the combination of the microbe’s potency or virulence (think ‘strength’) and the load (think ‘amount’) that comes in contact with a person. In other words, you may have a cut on your leg and someone might sneeze near you. There’s some small chance that an MRSA bacteria might find its way in your cut and result in an infection.  But if you spilled an entire rack of Petri dishes inoculated with MRSA and your leg was covered in them, think of the increased opportunity for infection then!

So are you a sneeze or a spill?

Each of us should ask, “How am I doing with spreading the Gospel?  Are my words and actions like Christ? Are they potent in truth and infectious in love? And how often in a day is someone likely to hear or see Christ in me?” Again, the potency and quantity of the seeds we sow are what build greater potential for the next God-opportunity in someone’s life. Sow good seeds everywhere you go. It could mean the difference for the next person you meet when the day of his appointment comes.

 

 

Doubt’s Diversion

doubt 2

Acts 12:15 “You’re crazy! ” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true. Then they said, “It’s his angel! ” [16] Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded.

Should we acknowledge the impossible when praying to a God for whom nothing is?

I met Randy last night on the river-walk in Jacksonville.  He’s a homeless vet in a wheelchair.  To some extent, he was looking for pity.  I didn’t give him much.  As I began to esteem him a special creation of God, he became more recalcitrant and resistant to the truth that a brighter future was possible.  I listened to him. I counseled him. I encouraged him. I prayed for him. But even then, as I left, his bitterness toward life was preeminent: “When I die and come back, I’m coming back to this city as a crow and I’m going to pluck every eye out of every person!” After 20 minutes, I had gotten nowhere.

After 16 years of ministering to people experiencing struggles like Randy, it’s as easy for me to say, “Some people seem impossible” as it if for them to say “My situation seems impossible.”

In this passage we’re taught something about impossible; that doubt is its acknowledgement.

Can you recall praying for something with doubt? I know. The question seems oxymoronic but it happens more than we’d like to admit.

Our prayer is often interrupted by the voice of worldly doubt.

“God, heal my friend of stage IV pancreatic cancer.”
No one ever makes it out of this alive.

“God, I need money for rent this month.”
Money will never just fall out of the sky.

“God, save Randy. Transform his life.”
This man will never change.

But should we acknowledge the impossible when praying to a God for whom nothing is?

Doubt – the acknowledgement of impossible.

And whatever we acknowledge, we accommodate.

Do you acknowledge the police have authority? You accommodate the law.  Do you acknowledge love is needed for a healthy marriage? You accommodate your spouse.  Do you acknowledge a bear could be dangerous? You accommodate the bear and get out of his woods!

Our actions accommodate what we acknowledge.

And the action that accommodates doubt is prayer with no real expectation; prayer without really believing.

To some extent that must have been the case on this day.

Herod had murdered James and it pleased the Jews. So, he arrested another apostle, Peter, and scheduled his execution for the morning.

I imagine in the fervent prayer the apostles were offering up for Peter that crucial night (v.5), some of it must have been, “Spare him, God! Save his life!” Yet the background mental noise was

No one ever escapes Herod’s grip.

They doubted. I know this because the presence of doubt is the absence of expectation and they had no expectation of seeing Peter that night. Even when Rhoda ran into the living room proclaiming, “Peter’s at the door!” they didn’t believe her.

None of us knows exactly what they were praying that night, but one thing we know for sure. They had no real expectation of Peter being set free.

But God was going to set him free, regardless of their doubt.  And it should be no shock to us if, in heaven, we learn that one or more of the disciples that night felt a tug during his prayer; a compelling from heaven to go down to the city gate to meet Peter.  Or maybe God whispered “I want you to go tell the guards who are watching over him that I’ve sent you and they need to set him free.” 

But doubt prevailed. To them, it was impossible that Peter would be set free and so they had no inclination to be a part of the impossible. Doubt may have diverted them from being a part of what God wanted to do.

How many times has doubt diverted you from being a part of God’s impossible? For me, “Too many” is the answer.

I prayed for Randy last night. I prayed with expectation that the wounds of his body and heart would be healed, that God would convict, that Randy would yield, that he would be transformed. For Randy, I expect it.

Doubt acknowledges the impossible. Faith expects it.

Don’t be diverted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Silver Lining Perspective

storm

Acts 11:29   So each of the disciples, according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea.

The silver lining to every cloud is that you can see the cloud.

Mary Anne Noland died this year. Her obituary read, “Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016.”  Sometimes the future looks too bleak to deal with. I’m sure a frustrating election wasn’t really what brought Mary to her end, but it is true that when the ominous and unavoidable approaches, it can seem futile to resist or even mitigate.

Can we really do anything about the political climate? About corporate corruption? About national debt? Poverty?  As dark storms of life approach, it becomes more likely to adopt a laissez-faire approach to life.  Sometimes we just look at the oncoming clouds and wonder where the silver lining is. Might be worth considering that the silver lining to every cloud is that you can see the cloud.

In Acts 11, Agabus the prophet speaks and the disciples see the cloud. A famine was coming.  But because these new believers in Antioch were steeped in faith, they saw the silver lining. Rather than shrugging their shoulders helplessly or panicking and Y2K-stockpiling, they had hope and not just for themselves but for others. They put that faith, hope and love into action.  Before the famine struck (in about 47 AD), they sent food and supplies to their friends in Judea. Think about that. They met a need before the need arrived!

Sometimes when I note the increasing chaos, the moral decline, political corruption, I wonder if those who prophesy doom aren’t true prophets. The Bible does speak of a dark day to come. But regardless of the tribulation that approaches, we must remember this example set by those in Antioch, the first to be called Christians: When you see dark skies approaching, be thankful you can see them and then let your faith, hope and love for others drive you to do something.

 

Who’s Touching Who?

touching

Acts 10:15   Again, a second time, a voice said to him, “What God has made clean, you must not call common.”

Some might think it’s what we do as Christians that makes us a peculiar and uncommon people, but uncommon action is not the source of consecration.

I once had a friend who was also the pastor of a church in a denomination noted for worship without instruments. Once on a trip with him, I began to ask some questions about that. I was familiar with worship teams that used guitars, drums and keyboards and was curious about their unwavering commitment to worship a cappella. I expected revelation from some hidden scripture or tradition traced back 2000 years, but instead all he said was, “They’re dogmatic about it because they want to be different. It’s what distinguishes them.”

Some might think it’s what we do as Christians that makes us a peculiar and uncommon people, but uncommon action is not the source of consecration. To believe so is to resurrect religious legalism that Christ buried at His death.

Peter learns this lesson in Acts 10.  He thought his consecration was connected to what he touched (or didn’t touch).  The old covenant taught that if he touched what was clean, he remained clean. If he touched what was unholy, he would be unholy.

But the word “common” in Acts 10:15 (also translated as “unholy” in some versions) doesn’t have to do with touching, but instead being touched. Consider the difference.

I can touch many things that are common to man without being common. I can drive a nice car, own a big business, and live in an above-average home. I can fly first class, eat fine dining and stay in a five star hotel.  I can touch all of it and not be influenced. But if it touches me, that’s different.

The word “common” in Acts 10:15 means to be laid open bare for all to access.  You have access to the world and that’s good because God’s called you to touch and influence the world around you. What’s not good is for the world to have access to you. You are not to be “laid open bare” for the world to touch you and influence you.

So how do you know if you’re touching or being touched? Carefully consider these three questions honestly.

Do you enjoy pleasure more than purpose?

Do you alter what you do because of what people think?

Does your death seem more loss than gain?

“Yes” to these questions is common and probably indicates we’re being touched; that the world is touching, accessing and influencing us.

But remember what Peter learned and then let’s learn it, too. What God cleanses is no longer common.  We’ve been cleansed by Christ to live an uncommon life in a common world. And uncommon lives are not touched and influenced by the world.  The world is touched and influenced by them.