Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Audacity of Faith

Paul is standing before the Jewish King and the Roman Governor. He is on trial. Once again, he falls back to telling his personal story, but he takes it one step further and explains to these men how his story connects to Jesus' story and how Jesus' story is the culmination of the story of the entire Jewish nation.

His judges lose it. The Governor accuses him of being crazy, "You're great learning is driving you insane." But Paul isn't done with the King. He pushes him, as a Jew, as to whether he believes the words of the prophets regarding the messiah. He won't let Agrippa hear these things without pushing for a response.

"Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" There is no way that Paul could have persuaded a King to change his stripes. That would be insane. But, Paul wasn't doing the persuading. Paul's words and Paul's story were driven by an outside power. He could believe that these men could change in an instant because he wasn't driving the change. He was doing his part, but God had a part to play as well.

It was Paul's knowledge of his team, that he did not have to face these men alone that allowed him to have such audacity. It allowed him to lay out his personal story and relate it to God's story. The two were written for and by one another, they were inexplicably intertwined, as our story should be with God's.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Take Courage

In Jerusalem Paul is almost killed by the crowd, almost beaten by the Roman guard, almost torn to pieces by the Sanhedrin. It has been a rough time, a harrowing experience, not something anyone would want repeated. Lucky for Paul, the Lord gives him some encouragement.

"Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome."

Oh, that's just wonderful.

Your Story

"The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, the dragged him from the Temple, and immediately the gates were shut. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar."

Paul is facing the wrath of the entire city. People are trying to tear him limb from limb, clawing for blood with their bare hands. He is only saved by the intervention of the Roman guards. Because he is a citizen, Paul is given a chance to speak to the crowd. He could have performed miracles, spoken prophecies, proved to them that he was powerful and speaking truth. He could have explained to them the mysteries of heaven, reasoned with them about where they were wrong in their thinking. He could have pleaded with them for his life, begged for mercy. He could have renounced his beliefs and returned to Judaism. Instead he resorts to something even more powerful. He tells them his story.

He explains to them how he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. He gives them the play-by-play on how his life was changed. He was once like them. No, he was once more zealous and certain than any of them, but he found a life-changing relationship with Jesus. This story, his personal story is more influential and powerful than anything else Paul could have done. And it is something any Christian can do - provided they have a life-changing relationship with Jesus.

What does that take? Faith and action.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Two Sides of one Strength

What does it mean to be strong? The longer I stay out of the gym, the more the feeling of being strong slips away from me. In the "World's Strongest Man" contests, strength is determined by how much you can lift or how much you can endure. Behemoths flip over tires or pull fire trucks and then hold barrels at arm's length or hold up a car containing a family. That strength is easy to measure and the path to building it is relatively straightforward.

Is that all there is to strength, though? In the examples above, strength is overcoming what is natural. Those tires lay flat on the ground on their own. Families in cars should remain with all four wheels on the ground. Paul overcomes what is natural too. (And I'm not just talking about raising a sleepy kid from the dead.)

When he talks with the Ephesian elders, he talks about what he did while he was among them. He says, "You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house." What would cause Paul to hesitate? The answer is in the rest of the statement. People don't always want to hear what they need to hear. But, Paul went ahead and told them anyway. It would be natural to desire affection and acceptance from the people of Ephesus, but Paul overcomes this natural desire and instead tells people what they need to hear. Do we do this? Do we stand up for what is right and good, or do we do what is natural and settle for acceptance and affection?

Next, Paul tells the elders that he's headed on to Jerusalem, to the unknown, "I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me." A short time ago, while in Corinth, Paul received a vision from God in which he was told that he could relax and feel safe there, that nothing would happen to him because God had a number of believers in the city who would protect him. It would have been natural for Paul to stay there - to stay where he was safe and life was easy and things were good. Not Paul. Paul overcomes the natural desire for safety and security and faces the dangers of the unknown.

That is strength. That is a more difficult task than flipping over a tire or lifting a car. Strongmen fight what's going on outside of themselves. Paul fought what was going on inside. He dedicated his life to it to such a degree that it defined him and became his only reason for being.

"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord has given me - the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace."


Monday, July 13, 2009


So, there was a Riot in Ephesus, fueled by the loss of profits from the sale of Artemis statues because people were leaving the worship of Greek gods to follow Paul's preaching and worship Yahweh. Some of Paul's companions were seized and taken into the public theater, where mass confusion ruled. The crowd of people shouted and screamed, but some of them didn't even know why they were there. It had become a riot for the sake of having a riot.

In the midst of this, Paul wanted to get up and address the crowd. He wanted to let his voice be heard, talk some sense into them, witness to them, preach the good news. He wanted to reason with an angry mob. A mob who had just accosted two of his companions. A mob that didn't even remember why they were there, just that they were angry and shouting.

Heads cooler than Paul's prevailed.

They talked him out of rushing into a bad situation.
Do we always let the same thing happen?

Do we see a situation or a problem and rush in, or do we listen to the council of others?
"I can handle this, I've done it before, just let me try..."

Do we see what we are good at as the solution to every problem?
"I'm really good with this hammer; I bet I can use it to drive in this screw..."

My Own Personal Bible Story

In Acts chapter 19, Luke recorded a story specifically for me. I don’t remember asking him to; then again if it was up to me I probably wouldn’t want it there. Yet there it is.

The story is about people dabbling with things they don’t really understand. There were a number of Jewish exorcists who had found a new weapon in their efforts to cast demons out of those who desperately needed their help. They had heard stories of a man named Paul who was much more than a successful exorcist. While their efforts included a great amount of work and had only so-so results, Paul cast out demons easily and seemingly as a simple means to an end. It was not his main business, just a side effort. Yet, he did it with such ease. He simply spoke a few words and demons fled.

One group of these exorcists, a group of seven brothers, the sons of a high priest named Sceva, decided to employ Paul’s methods. They approached the demon-possessed and cast out demons by invoking, “the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches.” They saw great success in this method and traveled the land with their newfound powers.

Eventually the brothers encountered a demon that they weren’t ready for. After speaking their “magic words,” contrary to what they had seen before, the demon spoke to them. “Jesus I know, and Paul I have heard of, but who are you?” Uh oh. The brothers were somewhat taken aback, this was the first time they had seen any resistance since they had begun using their new spell. They looked curiously between one another and back to the demon-possessed man. Before they could even consider what to do next, the man, filled with demon-inspired rage and strength, jumped into action, attacking the brothers. The single man pummeled the brothers, leaving them bruised, battered, bleeding. They fled the house, bereft of dignity and most of their clothes.

What had gone wrong? Why had they failed? Up until this point they had been successful. Up until this point they had been okay on their own. They had encountered small problems, weak demons, which they could handle on their own. As they handled these problems on their own, they became more and more confident – in themselves.

They failed to realize that the power of Paul in casting out demons wasn’t in the words that he spoke or the names that he dropped. It was in the man Jesus, not just the name. Paul knew Jesus, he relied on Jesus. Sceva’s sons didn’t know Jesus, they didn’t rely on him; they relied on their own devices and when they faced a problem that required more than what they had to give, they found themselves outmatched.

So, why is this my story? Like the brothers Sceva, I have tendency to overestimate my own abilities, to rely on my talents and gifts to solve a problem or remedy a situation. And, like the Scevas, those problems have been known to fight back. So, God gave me this story to remind me where my strength comes from. When problems mount up and ask me, “but who are you?” I answer that I am a child of God. The talents and gifts I have are from Him. Any success I have is from Him. When facing any problem, large or small, the only way to successfully handle it is to turn it over to Him, in word and in deed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Acts 17 16-ff is the definitive passage that people use for talking about relevance. In it, Paul talks about the Athenian idol to an unknown god and uses this to explain Yahweh the creator and future judge, as proved by resurrection. (Really, that's the whole of his message. He doesn't even say "Jesus.")

So, why was this relevant?
Because Paul started with something in Athens? Not really.
Because he quoted from one of their poets? Not really.

It was relevant because it was what they were interested in. It was what they cared about:
21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

This was the right place for this message. They were into theology, so Paul gave them theology. They weren't the sinners that Jesus approached with love. They weren't the Pharisees that Jesus approached with rebuke. They weren't the Jews that Stephen approached with history. They weren't the crowd that Peter approached with facts. They were scholars who Paul approached with scholarship.

Who are we approaching? (Or who should we be approaching?) How should we approach them?
The religious know-it-all cries for reform. The scholar demands proof. The broken need comfort. The poor need food. The young need a teacher. The lonely need a friend. The inexperienced need a mentor. The old need a purpose. The down hearted need hope. The explorers need discovery.

Everyone needs love in one form or another. Our mission is to figure out the form and give it to them. And then give it to them again. And again. And again.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Extra! Extra!

Parkside is doing something big. Something so big it can't be done - without help. That's where you come in. Oh, and God too.

Come to one of our informational meetings to find out about what's going on with Parkside's River Campus and how you can be a part.

Wednesday July 8th at 7:00 or Sunday July 12th during 2nd service at the Salem Rd. Campus.

Who cares!?!

Paul and company were traveling through Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea and they had similar reactions at each place. Some were curious, some were angry or jealous, but they all cared. This was why Paul started preaching in the synagogues. He knew the people there cared. But his message inspired others to care as well.

"But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city."

"Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."

Both of these people cared enough to act - for or against Paul. He got a similar reaction everywhere he went. So did the other apostles. Their message resulted in action. Does the church today still inspire the same action? Does it still get people hot and bothered, does it still get people to daily search for truth?

What do people in our community care about these days? What are we doing that people would care about? What are we doing to get the people who are already in church to care?

No matter what strategies we create or what structures we set up, they won't accomplish anything if people don't care enough to take part in them.