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Personal Security

I have the privilege of traveling quite a bit for my career. I am often asked the question by friends, “Are you ever afraid to get on an airplane and fly?” I appreciate the inquiry because it comes from people who sincerely care about me and my family. They want me to be safe and would like me to be around for a long time. It also makes sense since an airplane is basically a flying building with precious human cargo and mishaps can happen.
My response is usually something like, “I believe I will be on earth just as long as God’s purpose for me is in play. I trust that God will provide personal security for me. It also appears to me that when God’s plan for me is finished, it will be time to go. For me, this explains why some people survive the most horrendous circumstances while others lose their lives in some of the most benign ways.”
The apostle Paul experienced God’s personal security in Acts 27. He was being transported to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. As was the custom of the day, he was traveling by boat. It was, however, late Fall which means it was common for storms to arise and wreak havoc with ships trying to cross from Asia Minor to Europe. As sailing became increasing rough, Paul said to those on board, “’Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.’ But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship.” (v. 10-11)
Things went from bad to worse so the crew took every human step they knew to lighten the load, strengthen the ship and steer to safety. When all these attempts failed, Luke reported the morale aboard ship in verse 20, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” From a human point of view, their lives were over and there was nothing they could do about it.
From a divine point of view, however, God wasn’t done with Paul. “Paul stood up before them and said: ‘Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.”’” (v. 21-24)
If you finish the story, you will discover that the ship was indeed lost but the lives of all aboard were spared. I remember when I heard John MacArthur, teacher on the radio program Grace to You, say something to the effect, “If the people aboard this plane realized that I am being protected by Almighty God until His plan for my life is complete, they would thank me for being on board because it means their lives are protected also.”
So, I face my day today with courage. God has a plan for my life and will provide the personal security that is necessary for that plan to be completed. Since the same is true for you also, may God give each us the assurance that we can face whatever today ushers in because God is graciously and powerfully watching over us.

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The Way He Is

Yesterday, my granddaughter asked me, “Papa, why do you love me?” I didn’t see it coming and, honestly, I had not thought about it. It is such a natural thing for me and my love for her is so present in my soul that it never occurred to me to ask myself, “Why?”
I gave her an answer about how smart and sensitive and talented she is. It seemed to satisfy her for the moment but I realized it wasn’t really the right answer. I would love her just as much even if she wasn’t smart, sensitive and talented. So, the question has lingered in my heart and I have been asking myself the question, “Why do I love my grandkids so much? Why do I carry the important people of my life so indelibly on my heart?”
As I was pondering this question, I read Acts 26. Paul was on trial before King Agrippa and his wife Bernice. Paul seized upon the opportunity to tell a new crowd the story of what God had done in his life. Paul had a story of redemption that clearly illustrates the grace and power of God. Paul was a sincerely motivated enemy of God and didn’t even know it. He was actively opposed to everything God was trying to establish in the world and thought he was doing the right thing. Then, on the road to Damascus, Jesus interrupted his life and transformed his purpose. In the big picture, Paul is the proof that no one is too far away or so far off track that the grace of God can’t reach them.
In the midst of the big picture, I encountered a more intimate portrait of the heart of God. “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (v. 17-18)
Notice all the ways in which God demonstrated His love in this short statement. “I will rescue you.” Paul was hopelessly lost in his own zeal. He proudly thought he knew what was right and he was going full speed ahead with his agenda. As a result, both Gentiles and Jews would be upset with him. Rather than scold him, Jesus said He would rescue this wayward apostle.
“I am sending you to open their eyes.” Jesus saw that people were blind. They lacked real discernment because their stubborn hearts closed their eyes to the truth. Rather than reject them, Jesus chose to send Paul as an example that anyone can be transformed.
“I am sending you . . . to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.” People were wandering in the dark, stumbling their way through life. Rather than leave them to their own devices, Jesus chose Paul to fearlessly “turn the light on” by proclaiming the truth with a story of undeniable grace and forgiveness.
The purpose of all this activity was “so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” At the time, the people Jesus was referring to were selfish, stubborn, self-centered schemers. Rather than punish them for their waywardness, Jesus opened the doors of His heart so they could be forgiven and be raised up to their proper place.
Jesus’ perspective of people was shaped by His love. His decisions were motivated by His love. His patience was enabled by His love. His relentless commitment to stick with His plan was rooted in His love. Why? Because He is love. It is who He is. He doesn’t love us because we are so good and so enjoyable and add so much value to His life. He loves because it is in His nature to do so and as He expresses His love to us, we change.
He lives with the unswerving, unchanging, undeterred belief that His love can break through all our excuses and all our imperfections to convince us of our eternal value. He has proven over and over that when His love does break through, we are transformed into people who grasp our value and live to bring value to the lives of others.
I guess I love my granddaughter because it is who I am. I am pretty sure she is not old enough to grasp that concept but, while I am waiting for that day, I am going to keep adding value to her life. Jesus, share with us your ability to be the kind of people who love others whether they are acting loving today or not.

In the Company of Kings

I feel like I met a superstar this morning. I am reading Acts 25 and, if I didn’t know better, I would have thought that the Apostle Paul was an elite member of the privileged class. He has already appeared before Felix (a Roman governor appointed to oversee the province of Judea) to share his story and pronounce the truth of the gospel. Now he appears before Festus who succeeded Felix as the governor of the region (v. 6-10). When it was obvious that a plot was in place to ambush Paul, the apostle appealed to Caesar which created a scenario that would take him to Rome to appear before the supreme commander of his day. This made the situation more complicated so Festus convened an elaborate gathering that included King Agrippa, who ruled in Israel under the authority of Festus, his wife, Bernice and “the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city” (v. 23).
Paul was not meeting with all these custodians of influence, however, because of his success or his standing in the community. He was proclaiming the greatest message on earth to them because he was falsely accused of a crime, was waiting patiently in prison for a reasonable hearing and was having to tell his story over and over since there was no real basis for the charges against him. His apparent difficulties had opened doors of opportunity that were not possible in the course of his “normal” life.
I admire Paul for what he was doing but I don’t really like the principle—even though I know it is true. The trials of our lives create opportunities if we are willing to see them!
I would not have the compassion I have if I had not grown up around a fearful, controlling mom. I love her, I believe she meant well and I am glad to have a relationship with her today. It was frustrating and irritating but going through the developmental years of my life in an atmosphere of harsh fear opened my eyes to the hidden pain that many people carry. I was either going to become resentful or resolved to help. Thank God that Jesus gave me the will to help others. As I have told the story over and over I am amazed at the number of people who told me, “I grew up in a home like yours. I think we might be related!”
The day my 6 year-old son was missing for 6 hours settled the issue of whether I believed God was truly good. I had reached the point where I didn’t think I would see him again or, if I did, he would not be in good shape. I had to ask the question, “If I lose my son or find out he has been abused or killed, will I still believe that God is a good God who loves without limit?” It is an easy question to answer when things are going well. It is a much different question to answer when faced with tragedy. I am fortunate because I got my son back (He was playing in a storm drain with a friend). But I can remember the moment like it was yesterday when, through tears, I concluded that God was good regardless of what life may throw my way.
I am certainly not asking for difficult circumstances beyond my control to enter my life. That would be crazy. I do, however, trust that God will give me the grace to see the opportunities that exist in the midst of the difficult chapters of life since I live in a world that is filled with both victories and setbacks.
Jesus, I don’t relish the fact that we all face circumstances beyond our control. I do rejoice, however, that you can turn those same situations into moments of influence, strength and hope. Thanks for being there every step of the journey!

Simple Focus

I was thinking today about all the areas of life I struggle to keep up with. In our highly advanced society, my list has grown longer rather than shorter! My “short” list looks something like this:
Consistent personal devotions
Exercise routine
Yard work
Pay bills
Manage my business
Spend time with my wife
Stay in contact with my adult kids
Spend time with my grandkids
Help my dad with his computer
Household chores
Household repairs
Facebook
Email
Phone messages
Meetings
Auto maintenance
Make travel arrangements
Help someone less fortunate than myself
Finish a major project (mine happens to be finish writing a book)
And this is my short list! Technology and modern advancements have added multiple lines to my “to do” list and made them all feel vitally important. I find one of the greatest challenges of modern life is figuring out how to simplify.
That is why I think I responded so quickly to a statement in Acts 24. Paul was confined in a “gentleman’s’ prison” in Caesarea. I think the Governor Felix knew the charges against him were fabricated but he liked having Paul around to talk about life’s issues. “He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.” (v. 24) As Paul’s life was pared down, his message became more focused on the things that matter the most for the longest period of time. “As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now!'” (v. 25)
“Righteousness” is the conviction in my heart that I am right with God and my conscience is clean. It begins with the assurance that I am forgiven because of what Jesus did on the cross and then it expands into the ability to think correctly about life and make decisions based on what is true.
“Self-control” is the ability to actually live out what is correct in life.
“Judgment to come” points to the day when I will sit down with God face to face to review my life. If righteousness and self-control have been growing in my life, this will be one of the greatest meetings of my life. It will be the encounter with God that we all long for from our dads when we hear that He loves us and is proud of us.
Felix, of course, had not made righteousness and self-control a habit so the thought of standing before God was a frightening thought, as it should be. He realized that just because God is love doesn’t mean He is soft.
Today, in the midst of all that I need to accomplish, I am going to simply focus on doing what I know is right and trust that God will orchestrate the rest of my circumstances.

Speaking to Your Audience

I have noticed I have many “audiences” in my life. At times, my wife is the audience. She watches the way I live, responds to my decisions and seeks out ways to stay connected with me. I have noticed there are some things I can say to her that I would never say to anyone else and there are statements I could make to anyone else that I would be ill-advised to say to her. She is a very personal and vulnerable audience.
At times, my sons are the audience. They also watch the way I live but they respond differently to my decisions. They look to me for encouragement, bantering and challenges. They are trying to establish their place in the world and they want to know they can decompress around me and then get ready for the next competitive moment of their life. They seem to gain strength when they know I am genuinely proud of them.
At times, my grandkids are the audience. They have a much different view of me than my wife and sons. To them, I am a hero and a friend. I am part grown up and part kid in their eyes. They know I am bigger and older than they are but they also have in insatiable appetite for us to play together. They simply want me to show interest in their lives and be fascinated with them. When they get lost in a creative moment which distracts them from staying on schedule, I admire the giftedness and enjoy the moment with them despite the frustration it creates for those who want to keep a schedule.
I could go on talking about the audience of my friends, my colleagues, my clients and my acquaintances. The point is each audience of our lives responds to us in a unique way and we are wise if we employ different approaches with each grouping. This is exactly what Paul demonstrates in Acts 22. He has made his way to Jerusalem and it doesn’t take long until he is arrested. If he hadn’t expected this to happen, he may have panicked but he knew ahead of time this was part of God’s plan for his journey. As events unfolded, he took a different approach with each audience.
With his Jewish countrymen, he told a story. “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors . . . I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death . . . as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me . . . ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting’ . . . ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus’ . . . ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” (v. 2-21) This audience shared a common ancestry, common experiences, common history and a common value system. As a result, Paul could relate with them in story form with confidence that they would get the point.
With the Roman Centurion, he asked a question instead of telling a story, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” (v. 25) This representative of Rome would not relate to the stories of Jewish history and tradition. He would, however, care deeply about the Roman law since it was his job to enforce it and he was accountable for how well he carried it out. With a single question, Paul entered into the Centurion’s world.
I don’t know of a formula we can follow to determine how we should relate to the various people who surround us but I am confident God will give wisdom when we follow the principle that each audience of our lives needs a unique approach.

Asking is Better than Assuming

A man named Jeff stood up at an open microphone sharing session at the end of a weeklong family camp and said, “I have to admit that I made assumptions about people here at the beginning of the week that turned out not to be true. John over there shared that he was grumpy when he first arrived. I met him on that first day and I can assure you he was grumpy—very grumpy. In my heart I said, I need to keep my distance from him because he is going to have a bad attitude all week. It wasn’t true. He just needed to decompress from his responsibilities and as you saw he was one of the most fun acts at the talent show last night.
“Then I met Ivan and I said in my heart, That guy has it all. He is a physical specimen. He has an attractive wife and amazing kids. He seems to always be talking to people. God has blessed him way beyond what He has done for me. Then I actually talked to Ivan and heard his story. He is here to reconnect with his family after his third deployment. As you heard him share, he lost one friend and watched two other friends get seriously hurt from IEDs in the war in Afghanistan. My assumptions changed when he said, ‘Even though I hate their guts, I realize now that I have to forgive the people who hurt my friends. If I don’t, I will be a prisoner for the rest of my life and I will ruin the relationships I care about the most.'”
I need to be reminded often that making assumptions about other people seldom leads to healthy conclusions. Paul’s experience in Acts 21 is another one of those reminders. Paul has arrived in Jerusalem knowing it is going to be tumultuous. Out of respect, his first act was to see James because he was the leader of the church. (v. 18)
James reported to Paul that many of the Jewish believers “have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.” (v. 21) This was not the truth but it had been said enough times that many were starting to believe it. To help calm the issue down, Paul agreed to join four other men “in their purification rites and pay their expenses.” (v. 24) It was assumed this would settle the issue and calm everyone down.
Instead, “When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him . . . ‘he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.’ (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)” (v. 27-29) The crowd erupted, seized Paul and began to beat him.
To save his life, “The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains.” (v. 33) The soldiers were shocked when Paul talked to them in Greek because they had made assumptions about who he was, “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?” (v. 38)
In rapid fire succession, assumptions led to the wrong conclusions. I know it is important in life to reach conclusions about individuals so we can make healthy relationship decisions. I just want to be wise enough to gather real evidence first. Since you are reading this, I assume you agree with me!

Plan for Endurance

Competition begins in earnest today at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England. I am excited because I am going to have the opportunity to watch some of the best athletes in the world compete in their passionate pursuits. It never fails to inspire me when I watch people who have endured to this point. They have all faced challenges, setbacks and injuries but they found a way to stay at it until their opportunity unfolded. I love that because it is how I want to live my life.
It is one of the reasons I have so much respect for the apostle Paul. To be sure, he did not start well. With great zeal, he tried to shut down the church that God Himself was putting in place. “Opponent of God” is not something I want on my resume! But, he finished well and that is much more important. As I read Acts 21 this morning, I noticed three commitments Paul made that resulted in the endurance to finish his race well.
1. He had a plan. His goal was to reach Jerusalem (Ch 20). He mapped out his route by ship and booked passage for himself and his travelling companions. He sought out lodging in Tyre, Ptolemais, and Caesarea during layovers in those towns. (v. 4, 7-8)
2. He had counted the cost. The trip to Jerusalem was anything but a vacation. It was going to be hard work and it was going to be personally dangerous for Paul. It wasn’t like some of the situations we all get into where we are surprised when things go bad. It was clear from the beginning that Paul was going to suffer. Everywhere he stopped on his trip, he was reminded. In Tyre, “Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” (v. 4) In Caesarea, “. . . a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says, “In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.”‘” (v. 10-11) Even his travelling companions joined in the chorus, “When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.” (v. 12) Paul would not be dissuaded, however. He knew this was God’s will for him. He had already decided he would follow through and had determined in his heart that the price must be paid despite the difficulties.
3. He was connected to people. Many of the paths we walk take us to difficult challenges because we live in an imperfect world. It helps when we realize we are not alone in the journey. Paul understood this so he deliberately connected himself to people who believed in his God and in His sovereign right to lead us. In Tyre, “All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.” (v. 5) In Caesarea, “the people there pleaded with Paul not to go . . . When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’” (v. 12-14) Amazingly, “Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay.” (v. 16) Finally, when he arrived in Jerusalem, “the brothers and sisters received us warmly.” (v. 17)
The application is easier to state than actually live out but I at least have a place to focus. I need to keep making plans that are consistent with what I know to be God’s will. I need to count the cost ahead of time as far as I can determine it. I need to stay connected to people who will encourage me along the way. For all of you who have believed in my journey, “thank you!”