Thursday, July 31, 2014

when I look at the stars...

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Amos 5
mark this: Amos 5:8
"He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns blackness into dawn and darkens day into night..."
I am not much of an astronomer. I have a half broken telescope, and my best accomplishment with it is discovering the moon. In college, to avoid the horrors of biology, chemistry or physics, I took astronomy instead. It was one of the best educational choices I ever made. Class after class we discussed, or better yet watched in the school's planetarium, the wonders of this universe. It gave me a new found appreciation for the vastness of God's power and glory.
In today's reading, the prophet Amos is calling for the Israelites to repent, and demonstrating what that means. He's helping them to "right-size" their concept of who God is. He is not like any of the other gods of the nations, limited by geography; He is the Ruler of all the Earth. Amos goes on to mention two famous constellations to further prove his point: the Pleiades (the 7 sisters, second picture above) and Orion (the hunter, first picture above). Apparently, these two constellations were as popular 2700 years ago as they are today.
These groups of stars are also mentioned twice in the book of Job (1). What is even more amazing than these references is what we know about these stars through modern technology. God's word was pointing us towards these glorious objects long before the telescope, and now the more we learn about them, the more we stand in awe of God's majesty.
Within the Pleiades, the brightest star in that group is named Alcyone (don't ask me how to pronounce it). This star, which is about 370 light-years from earth, nevertheless shines noticeably in the night time sky. Why? Because this star is 2,400 times brighter than our own sun. We cannot even glance at the sun for more than a moment without damaging our eyes, how can we begin to understand the magnitude of this star's luminosity? This reference helps us to begin to understand the magnitude of God's blazing holiness, and how difficult it is for sinful man to even begin to figure it out.
Within Orion, the biggest star in that group is named Betelgeuse (it has nothing to do with beetles or juices or certainly not the movie!). This star makes the shoulder of the constellation, and is about 640 light years from us. It is noticeably red, because it is classified as a red supergiant. Okay, so what's the big deal? The deal is, this star is about 1,000 times bigger than our own sun. It is so big, that if you put it into the center of our own solar system, you and me, the rest of Earth, along with Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter would all be "inside" it. That's pretty big. This reference helps us begin to see just how small we are, and how hard it is to grasp God's infinity.
I find it fascinating that centuries before we could even know it, God gave examples of His power and hugeness that we are just beginning to comprehend. In the midst of this rebuke to Israel (and all of us as well), God reminds us of who He is. So let this little lesson in amateur astronomy remind all of us of Him. The Grand Designer, the Creator, of all we know and see. The One of whom the Bible says in perhaps the greatest understatement of all time: "He made the stars also (2)." Look up to the starry host, and let that help us to bow our knees in wonder of Him.
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(1) Job 9:9 and 38:31
(2) Genesis 1:16

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

the folly of finger pointing

(written by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Amos 3 & 4
mark this: Amos 2:6
"This is what the LORD says: for three sins of Israel, for even four, I will not turn back my wrath..."
Schadenfreude. It's a complicated word to describe a very simple concept. I can't pronounce it correctly, but I was probably only three or four years old, watching Wile E. Coyote, when I understood it completely. You see, schadenfreude is basically experiencing amusement or delight in the pain or misfortune of others. You know, that great generator of laughs that's been with us from Punch & Judy and The Three Stooges, all the way to America's Funniest Videos and Wipeout. Other people are tripped, suckerpunched, bopped, poked or otherwise harmed, and our first response is to laugh. Not one of us can say we've never indulged in this type of pleasure.
The whole premise of schadenfreude is the maxim: better "him" than me, or better "them" than us. It only works until we become "them", and then it's no longer funny. As long as it is Curly who's getting poked in the eye, well that's comic genius. When its you or me, well that's not so funny. The first 18 verses of Amos start with talk against "them." All of Israel's hostile neighbors (Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon & Moab) are all called out for their sins, and they are warned of impending judgment.
Can you imagine the crowd around Amos, as he begins his message to the people of Israel. At first, they would be thrilled with God's announcement.  I picture them cheering as each of their enemies are brought under God's judgement. "Edom..... (boooo!)... will be consumed." (hooray!) It's a big celebration, that is until Israel itself is mentioned. Sudden the people at this pro-Israel rally would seek to silence the key note speaker.
This is certainly a lesson for us to be careful what we celebrate. The book of Proverbs warns us: "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove.. (1)" Remember Jesus Himself said to us, "For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (2)”
But even more than that, it's a clear demonstration of the character and consistency of God.
Notice, there is NO distinction between the formula that the prophet used for every other nation and the formula for Israel. Moab sinned and would be punished. Israel sinned and also would be punished. In a world that is ruled by favoritism, nepotism, insider connections; in a world where caste, or social class, or deep pocketbooks have all the say, it is so refreshing and just that all that means nothing to God. Israel would not be dealt with lightly just because they knew the judge.
Jesus Christ is the great equalizer. The Word is not just speaking platitudes when it proclaims "God does not show favoritism.(3)" Our message, therefore, is twofold and summed up in two consecutive verses: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (4)"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Proverbs 24:17-18
(2) Luke 6:38
(3) Romans 2:11
(4) Romans 3:23 &24

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

restore the roar

(written by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Amos 1 & 2
mark this: Amos 1:2
"The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem..."
I have a son who is scared of thunderstorms. I've tried to teach him all the tricks to overcome this, like counting between the flash and the sound (one one thousand... two one thousand...). But reasoning a child out of this kind of fear is an exercise in futility. I can explain to him all the science behind lightning and storms, and while he will listen with interest, when the thunder sounds, he is much more concerned with having his parent right by him. Perhaps I am the one who has grown too comfortable- numb to a healthy fear of thunderstorms because of things like modern shelter and lightning rods.
You see, the more I read the Bible, the more I wonder if all us should experience this kind of fear more often. For most of us who dwell in the city or suburbs, we've isolated ourselves from most of the elements. Only a monumental disaster (i.e. hurricane, tornado, earthquake etc.) can wake us from our stupor. After all, we can watch video of great deserts or mountains or other forces of nature from the safety of our living room.
I want you to think about the last time you were truly awed by nature. It most likely was at a time and place where you were actually in danger, when you recognized that you were not in control. Some mountain or cliff or river or forest or even just severe weather put you in your place in the grand theme of things. I want to propose to you that such an experience is a very good thing.
As people, we often find ourselves full of complacency and pride- especially when we think our own little world is running on all cylinders. In this book of Amos, which we start together today, we see the people in Israel with the same kind of attitude. During the ministry of Amos, God's people didn't think they needed God because they thought they had everything figured out-- politically, financially, morally and spiritually. They confused temporary stability with God's blessing, and became smug. They thought everything was great between themselves and God.
My, how they were wrong.
Into this scene, God sent a reluctant, but obedient prophet named Amos. His job was to confront the people of Israel with God's message and abruptly bring them back to reality. It was certainly not an easy or pleasant task, and over the next week we will explore the themes of this powerful little book. But for now, I want to focus in on the its second verse:
"The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem..."
This message begins with a needed jolt-- a thunderclap, a roar, anything to wake up these complacent people. Most of us don't like those kinds of sudden and startling sounds- but God has much bigger things on His mind than our creature comforts. Amos literally begins with a growl-- God is not at all happy! We'd be wise to listen up as well.
God is not tamable! God is not safe! God is not like Mister Rodgers or elevator music. He refuses to fit into any of our boxes. He will not be limited by our man made boundaries. In Amos chapter 1 alone, He withers, sends fire, consumes, breaks down, and destroys. There are very few pats on the back in this book, but multiple kicks to the posterior.
Our nation, our age, our churches are also in dire need to heed this message. For too long we've tried to turn the Lion of Judah into a declawed lap cat. It does not work, but that doesn't stop us from trying. We need to be put back to a Biblical perspective of who God really is and who we are in light of Him. Would you allow His Word, courtesy of Amos the prophet to speak to you in this area? Let God's truth jolt us all back to a humble attitude before Him. Remember- not one of us is truly in control of anything- even our own personal world. We face danger everyday, whether we realize it or not. Therefore, let Amos help us towards living out Hebrews 12:28-29-
"Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,  for "our God is a consuming fire."
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Monday, July 28, 2014

Acts 29: "true love"

The Word for today:
Acts 28:17-31
The book of Acts stops at chapter 28, verse 31. But the reader is left hanging in mid-air, with the definite impression that Acts may have stopped there, but it doesn't end there:
The book of Acts is still being written. Like the Gospel of Luke, the book of Acts is yet another record of the things Jesus ‘began both to do and to teach.’ Jesus isn’t finished yet. He began His ministry in His human body, as recorded in the Gospels. He continued in His body, the church, through the book of Acts. He continues His ministry today through you and me and every other believer on the planet. The book of Acts will be completed someday. And when it is completed, you and I will have a chance to read it in glory, in eternity, when the plan of God has been fulfilled. When we read it, what will my part be in that great story? And what will yours be? – Ray Stedman, Adventuring Through the Bible
Today Stand in the Rain concludes our long look at various aspects of believers' testimonies--the stories, in-the-making right now, that will someday appear in "Acts 29."
As we speak of these stories in general, we encourage you to think, in particular, about the tale your own life is telling--and to "edit" (where necessary) before publication!
***
What does a well-told personal testimony look like? In Psalm 23, God (through David) shows us. Psalm 23 is the model, the prototype, for our own stories of faith.
Yesterday, we identified some elements of Psalm 23 that should be applied to testimonies of our own. Today, we'll find some more…
Psalm 23 outlines the pattern for every believer's story:
You'll surely want to relate how you were born again:
He restores my soul.
You'll want to relate how he has declared you to be as righteous as Jesus!
He leads me in paths of righteousness…(1)
And how the basis of his goodness toward you is found not within you but within him:
…for his name's sake.
You'll want to relate how he anointed you with His own Spirit:
You anoint my head with oil… (2)
You'll want to relate that your Father is faithful to discipline and direct:
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You'll want to relate that you're not alone anymore:
For you are with me…
Surely you'll want to relate that the longer you know him, the closer and closer he gets. (Note the shift from indirect address ("he") to direct address ("you") as the poem proceeds.)
***
"Surely you'll want to relate…"
We relate a story. We relate the story of our relationship to Jesus. We hope that we relate the story of our relationship to Jesus in such a way that other people can relate to it.
Because if they relate to it, they might start their own relationship with Jesus--and then, someday, relate their story of faith to someone else, who might...
I apologize for too many relate / relationship references, but I wanted to emphasize that a testimony is about your relationship, not your reformation.
A testimony, as modeled for us in Psalm 23, is not about how we stopped drinkin' or druggin' or chasin' skirts. There might be some of that, but only to serve as before and after pictures of a redemption wrought, bought and paid for at the cross of Jesus Christ. (The only way we know David knew want is that he acknowledged he knew it no more.)
A testimony is a love story; nothing more nor less. It's about how you met and how he proposed and whether there was a honeymoon. (I'm still waiting for mine.) It's about your favorite song and it's about the time he said just the right thing.
A testimony is a true story, so it might not be all sweet and light. Your testimony might recall some rocky days, if you've had them. I sure have; Jesus and I are close to "the rocks" right now. But he'll come in and save the day, 'cause that's what he does.
A testimony is about a soul in want on a path to nowhere…until he paid the price for your soul with the wine of his own blood, empowering your new life with the oil of his own Spirit:
A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead…
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine…"
He anoints my head with oil. My cup runs over. Surely he can do the same for you.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) see 2 Corinthians 5:21
(2) oil is the most prevalent symbol of the Holy Spirit in Scripture

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Acts 29: "surely"

The Word for today:
Acts 28:1-16
The book of Acts stops at chapter 28, verse 31. But the reader is left hanging in mid-air, with the definite impression that Acts may have stopped there, but it doesn't end there:
The book of Acts is still being written. Like the Gospel of Luke, the book of Acts is yet another record of the things Jesus ‘began both to do and to teach.’ Jesus isn’t finished yet. He began His ministry in His human body, as recorded in the Gospels. He continued in His body, the church, through the book of Acts. He continues His ministry today through you and me and every other believer on the planet. The book of Acts will be completed someday. And when it is completed, you and I will have a chance to read it in glory, in eternity, when the plan of God has been fulfilled. When we read it, what will my part be in that great story? And what will yours be? – Ray Stedman, Adventuring Through the Bible
Stand in the Rain is taking a long look at various aspects of believers' testimonies--the stories, in-the-making right now, that will someday appear in "Acts 29."
As we speak of these stories in general, we encourage you to think, in particular, about the tale your own life is telling--and to "edit" (where necessary) before publication!
***
The Bible tells us how by showing us how.
How should we live? God didn't just tell us how to live. He became flesh and dwelt among us so we could see a life as it should be lived.
How should we pray? God didn't just leave us with prayer precepts. His word is strewn with models of effective prayer (along with a few models of phony prayer that we should avoid.) Ultimately Jesus, when the disciples asked him how to pray, delivered a profound and memorable pattern for effective prayer: "Our Father," he began…
What does love look like? He showed us:
What does a personal testimony, well told, resemble? He showed us that as well:
The LORD is my shepherd, it began…
The 23rd Psalm can be seen as the Bible's prototypical testimony. Like Jesus' prototypical prayer, it starts with the name of God and "ends" with forever:
The LORD...forever.
It traces a relationship on the move: from faith to faith, from glory to glory, from trust to trust. (1)
It clearly defines the roles--the Savior and the saved--in the relationship. (That sheep didn't rescue himself!)
It employs milieu and metaphor that are personal and particular to convey the attributes of the universal God:
David's metaphor was rustic: shepherd, sheep, stream, meadow, and valley. Today, we might choose aeronautic, or atomic, or even athletic terms! Paul described his journey of faith in terms of a runner in pursuit of a trophy:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
***
Your testimony, like David's, will include conflict: dark valleys and enemies all around.
It will include irony: the rod of discipline and correction brings comfort as well.
It will include, perhaps, a wee bit o' prophecy as you peek into a future which surely will unfold in fulfillment of God's Word:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Forever.
***
We will finish our foray through "Acts 29"--and Psalm 23--tomorrow. See you then.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) see Romans 1:17; (2) see 2 Corinthians 3:18

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Acts 29: "a picture of growing trust"

The Word for today:
Acts 27:21-44
The book of Acts stops at chapter 28, verse 31. But the reader is left hanging in mid-air, with the definite impression that Acts may have stopped there, but it doesn't end there:
The book of Acts is still being written. Like the Gospel of Luke, the book of Acts is yet another record of the things Jesus ‘began both to do and to teach.’ Jesus isn’t finished yet. He began His ministry in His human body, as recorded in the Gospels. He continued in His body, the church, through the book of Acts. He continues His ministry today through you and me and every other believer on the planet. The book of Acts will be completed someday. And when it is completed, you and I will have a chance to read it in glory, in eternity, when the plan of God has been fulfilled. When we read it, what will my part be in that great story? And what will yours be? – Ray Stedman, Adventuring Through the Bible
Stand in the Rain is taking a long look at various aspects of believers' testimonies--the stories, in-the-making right now, that will someday appear in "Acts 29."
As we speak of these stories in general, we encourage you to think, in particular, about the tale your own life is telling--and to "edit" (where necessary) before publication!
***
Because your story of faith is the greatest gift you can give today--and will be your most significant legacy--Stand in the Rain has devoted space, here in the region of "Acts 29," to discuss what makes a testimony well-told.
God must have anticipated our efforts, because he shows us, in Psalm 23, an example of what we've been talking about! The 23rd Psalm is the model, par excellence, for our very own testimonies.
David is the Teller of his story, but he's not the Star--and it doesn't take him long to say so. He uses the first few words to establish the focus of his poem:
The LORD is my shepherd…
David is not the Actor but the Acted Upon. God initiates; David receives:
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake.
At the heart of the story is a relationship. There is a lot of action in Psalm 23, but the action only serves to highlight a relationship, built on trust, that is developing between the lines.
David illustrated the relationship with scenes from his own life.
I would not choose to communicate Jesus with rustic imagery--shepherd and pastures and streams. But David could because they were the authentic background of his relationship with the LORD. He most likely met the LORD in the solitude of the fields, among the sheep under shining stars.
There must have come, one night, the realization that he was to the LORD what the sheep were to him. He was valued, even prized; he was guided and guarded and provided for. But best of all he was in the presence of the LORD. He was in the presence of his enemies, to be sure, but the presence of the supernatural shepherd overwhelmed his natural fears…
***
Psalm 23 is the world's most famous poem, and for good reason: it's the world's best poem. Let its sublime simplicity inspire your efforts to live out a relationship of growing trust with the LORD--and to say so, with style, in the presence of friends and foes.
We'll return to these fields and streams and valleys tomorrow, in order to glean from David's story a few more things we can apply to our own.
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Friday, July 25, 2014

Acts 29: Let's let I AM be who I AM is.

The Word for today:
Acts 27:1-20
The book of Acts stops at chapter 28, verse 31. But the reader is left hanging in mid-air, with the definite impression that Acts may have stopped there, but it doesn't end there:
The book of Acts is still being written. Like the Gospel of Luke, the book of Acts is yet another record of the things Jesus ‘began both to do and to teach.’ Jesus isn’t finished yet. He began His ministry in His human body, as recorded in the Gospels. He continued in His body, the church, through the book of Acts. He continues His ministry today through you and me and every other believer on the planet. The book of Acts will be completed someday. And when it is completed, you and I will have a chance to read it in glory, in eternity, when the plan of God has been fulfilled. When we read it, what will my part be in that great story? And what will yours be? – Ray Stedman, Adventuring Through the Bible
Stand in the Rain is taking a long look at various aspects of believers' testimonies--the stories, in-the-making right now, that will someday appear in "Acts 29."
As we speak of these stories in general, we encourage you to think, in particular, about the tale your own life is telling--and to "edit" (where necessary) before publication!
***
The only real Jesus is in the Bible. In fact, he is the Bible; he's the Word of God -- made flesh to dwell amongst us. His triumph over evil was promised in the Garden of Eden, pictured in the sacrificial system of the law of Moses, and clearly portrayed by the prophets.
Because the wages of sin had to be paid in kind -- an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for life -- he divested Himself of heaven's glory to become like one of us  (born of woman, born under the law) so that he could take my place on a cross I'd earned. Virgin born, the sinless son of God, He was baptized in identification with us as we are baptized in identification with Him. Coming up out of the water, driven by the Spirit, he withstood temptation by wielding the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, against the devil in the wilderness. He performed miracles, personified the grace and truth of God, died at the hands of secular government and organized religion for the sins of the world, then rose from the dead in accordance with, and fulfillment of, scripture. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and of His kingdom there will be no end.
The only real Jesus is in the Bible, the whole Bible, and nowhere but the Bible. Corollary to that fact is that no fraudulent Jesus-es will make their way into "Acts 29." So let's pick up our Bibles each day as if we'd never seen the thing before. Let's not bring any pre-conceived notions of Jesus to the reading. Let's let him emerge from the pages of his only book. Let's let I AM be who I AM is. (1)
Jesus is so unique that, ironically, you and I can't have our very own unique Jesus. There's only one of him, so mine has to be yours and yours has to be mine.
He's one of a kind, so we've got to share. But, being infinite, there's enough of him to go around. Remember the feeding of the five thousand? Five thousand, five million, five squintillion; it doesn't matter. There's enough Bread of Life to cover the crowd.
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(1) see Exodus 3:14

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Acts 29: "hope is a fact"



The Word for today:
Acts 26:19-32

The book of Acts stops at chapter 28, verse 31.  But the reader is left hanging in mid-air, with the definite impression that Acts may have stopped there, but it doesn't end there:
The book of Acts is still being written.  Like the Gospel of Luke, the book of Acts is yet another record of the things Jesus ‘began both to do and to teach.’  Jesus isn’t finished yet.  He began His ministry in His human body, as recorded in the Gospels.  He continued in His body, the church, through the book of Acts.  He continues His ministry today through you and me and every other believer on the planet.  The book of Acts will be completed someday.  And when it is completed, you and I will have a chance to read it in glory, in eternity, when the plan of God has been fulfilled.  When we read it, what will my part be in that great story?   And what will yours be?   – Ray Stedman, Adventuring Through the Bible

Stand in the Rain is taking a long look at various aspects of believers' testimonies--the stories, in-the-making right now, that will someday appear in "Acts 29."

As we speak of these stories in general, we encourage you to think, in particular, about the tale your own life is telling--and to "edit" (where necessary) before publication!

***

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15)

"Rhyme" and "reason" are both part of the Christian experience.  So as you live out the story to be published in Acts 29, make sure that it resonates in the heart and communicates to the head.

As we discussed in yesterday's article, the subjective elements--the rhyme of your story--are up to you.  You can choose the words, the colors, the chronology, the graphics, the special effects, the sound track…

But the objective reasons for the hope that we have--the facts which make our faith true-- are not ours to choose.  They are only ours to cut and paste from the pages of scripture.

***

Just because someone says "Jesus," it doesn't mean he knows the real Jesus.  This is illustrated by a remarkable incident in the book of Acts:

A team of Jews who were traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus. The incantation they used was this: "I command you by Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!" Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. But when they tried it on a man possessed by an evil spirit, the spirit replied, "I know Jesus, and I know Paul. But who are you?" And he leaped on them and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and badly injured. (Acts 19:13-16)

As this passage relates, the demons would only respond to or avoid the genuine believer.  They will not answer to someone who uses the name of Jesus without really knowing who Jesus is.

Thus the name "Jesus," in and of itself, has no power.  It only has power when it points to the Person, known by that name, who is found in the Bible, the whole Bible, and nowhere but the Bible.

Many have forged their own make-believe Jesus.   These fraudulent Jesus-es are nothing more than idols, cast in the image of their fraudulent makers.  Jesus warned of false prophets.  Ironically, but not surprisingly, the most dangerous false prophets are the un-scriptural Jesus-es whom whole "Christian" eras and denominations have followed and are following.

The genuine Jesus wasn't conceived in the mind of man.  In fact he wasn't conceived at all--until he stepped out of eternity into time, when he was...
     
conceived by the Holy Spirit
     
and born of the virgin Mary.
     
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
     
was crucified, died, and was buried;
     
he descended to hell.
     
The third day he rose again from the dead.
     
He ascended to heaven
     
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
     
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.  (1)

That's the only Jesus who can save.  He's the only reason for the hope that we have.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) from the Apostle's Creed

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Acts 29: "Purple-and-pink paisley hasn't been tried!"

The Word for today:
Acts 26:1-18
The book of Acts stops at chapter 28, verse 31. But the reader is left hanging in mid-air, with the definite impression that Acts may have stopped there, but it doesn't end there:
The book of Acts is still being written. Like the Gospel of Luke, the book of Acts is yet another record of the things Jesus ‘began both to do and to teach.’ Jesus isn’t finished yet. He began His ministry in His human body, as recorded in the Gospels. He continued in His body, the church, through the book of Acts. He continues His ministry today through you and me and every other believer on the planet. The book of Acts will be completed someday. And when it is completed, you and I will have a chance to read it in glory, in eternity, when the plan of God has been fulfilled. When we read it, what will my part be in that great story? And what will yours be? – Ray Stedman, Adventuring Through the Bible
Stand in the Rain is taking a long look at various aspects of believers' testimonies--the stories, in-the-making right now, that will someday appear in "Acts 29."
As we speak of these stories in general, we encourage you to think, in particular, about the tale your own life is telling--and to "edit" (where necessary) before publication!
***
In previous days, we have seen that our testimonies--the stories our lives are now "telling"--will not be about us.
They won't say, "I changed from that to this." What they will say is, "Jesus changed me from that to this." We will not be the Actor, but the Acted Upon. We will not initiate, but receive.
Q. If my story isn't about me, then what role do I play?
A. Your most important role is Teller.
You are the storyteller. Acts, as a whole, demonstrates this. The voice you hear behind all the incidents about Paul isn't Paul, but Luke. Your page of Acts 29, when published, will be told about Jesus, but told by you.
That means that you get to choose, from the thousands of scenes which make a life, the few to be included on the page you're allotted. You get to choose the scenes, the words, the tone of voice.
My subject will be Jesus and your subject will be Jesus, but your telling will differentiate your story from mine. Your individual telling will give your story its distinctive flavor and feel.
Your telling lends your story its poetry, its heart and soul. Your telling is what you bring to the grand story of Jesus. It's your opportunity to express your Savior and his saving work in a way that no one can ever replicate, because no one else can bring the same combination to the telling.
Let's say Jesus is a constant--call him X. Let's say you are the variable y. The shorthand description of your unique relationship with Jesus is Xy. Xy is your Acts 29 story!
Which is a different story than mine, which has X (of course) as constant but me (m) as its variable. The story I will tell is Xm. It is in some ways the same as yours, but in other ways it is vastly different.
What an opportunity! These unique stories practically write themselves. And there's no need to consult outside sources (or cite them with footnotes) because you’re the only 'expert'--and the only eyewitness to Xy in the whole world!
But, this golden opportunity is also a solemn responsibility. Because no one else can testify to the Xy you've witnessed, you have to tell the story or it is forever lost. A word unheard, a story untold, is sad somehow, like a love lost or a land undiscovered.
***
You bring the poetry--the heart and soul, the color and rhyme--to the telling of your tale. You can tell it in a song (I told you yesterday to bring your violin, or your trumpet or drums) or you can write it with a purple crayon. You can smile as you speak it, or you can cry. (I do both as I tell my own.)
No one can argue with the subjective realm--with your choice of a purple crayon or a pink one; with your choice of trumpet instead of piano accompaniment. So don't be afraid to tell your tale in textures and colors never selected before. (Purple-and-pink paisley hasn't been tried!)
The tale isn't about you, but the telling is yours. You must include "reason"--the facts, which make your story true. (We'll look at that tomorrow.) But the" rhyme," which makes your story unique, is up to you.
Every "Acts 29" story will be a love story. But no two love stories should sound alike. So have fun. Play it loud or low, play it sweet or tart--but play it from the heart.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Acts 29: "rhyme and reason"

The Word for today:
Acts 25:13-27
The book of Acts stops at chapter 28, verse 31. But the reader is left hanging in mid-air, with the definite impression that Acts may have stopped there, but it doesn't end there:
The book of Acts is still being written. Like the Gospel of Luke, the book of Acts is yet another record of the things Jesus ‘began both to do and to teach.’ Jesus isn’t finished yet. He began His ministry in His human body, as recorded in the Gospels. He continued in His body, the church, through the book of Acts. He continues His ministry today through you and me and every other believer on the planet. The book of Acts will be completed someday. And when it is completed, you and I will have a chance to read it in glory, in eternity, when the plan of God has been fulfilled. When we read it, what will my part be in that great story? And what will yours be? –- Ray Stedman, Adventuring Through the Bible
Stand in the Rain is taking a long look at various aspects of believers' testimonies--the stories, in-the-making right now, that will someday appear in "Acts 29."
As we speak of these stories in general, we encourage you to think, in particular, about the tale your own life is telling--and to "edit" (where necessary) before publication!
***
SUBJECTIVE--
personal: modified or affected by personal views, experience, or background
OBJECTIVE--
expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations
Two realms have staked out territory in the human psyche. Sometimes referred to as "Rhyme and Reason" (or as "Heart and Head" or as "Subjective and Objective" or as "the Affective Domain and the Effective Domain") these states of mind are often thought to be in conflict, because within us they often are. But in Jesus Christ, they are so seamlessly and exquisitely apportioned that the one is the other:
For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.  (John 1:17/NASB)
know Jesus is God and I know that the Bible is the Word of God. But much of my certainty stems from the subjective realm: I know Jesus is God because he, far more than anyone or anything else I've encountered, rhymes and harmonizes with my experience; the truth he has pronounced in scripture is in accord with what I know to be true about life.
Truth isn't truth because he approved it. Truth is what it is because he shaped it that way. He's not a philosopher who observes truth. He's the Creator who engineered truth to match what he'd already envisioned. Truth didn't enter his head; it emanated from his head.
He's not a mere example of what is beautiful and noble; he's the source of beauty and nobility. He, indeed, is beauty and truth.
There. Those are thoughts that come straight from the poetic realm, from the realm of rhyme. Rhyme is musical and harmonic, sensual and memorable. It's that certain something -- "something in the way she moves" -- that made you fall in love.
***
But, as your Dad should have told you, rhyme doesn't pay the bills. Reason -- "just the facts, ma'am" -- may not win hearts, but it keeps the creditors at bay. So while I know in my heart that Jesus is the only real issue and the only valid answer, I cannot just emote that truth to others.  I have to arrange a rational explanation in order to express my heart. The apostle Peter wrote that we should prepare a reasoned explanation for our faith in Jesus, so that we are ready to respond when questions come our way:
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  (1 Peter 3:15)
It's great if Jesus sets your heart aflame, makes you feel as if you're walking on air, and leaves you positively twitterpated. It's great for you, that is.
But feelings can't communicate, to others, why you feel as you do. We can't tell someone, "I'm joyful because I'm joyful." They want the reason why.
***
Rhyme and reason are both part of the Christian experience. So as you live out the story to be published in Acts 29, make sure that it resonates in the heart and communicates to the head.
Tomorrow, we'll focus on writing "rhyme" ("heart"/the subjective/the affective) into your testimony. So don't forget to bring your violin or any other items of enchantment.
On the day after that, you'll want your thinking cap and your slide rule (What's that?!) when we'll be adding "reason" to the mix.
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Monday, July 21, 2014

Acts 29, part 5--"make it a movie, not a portrait"

The Word for today:
Acts 24:22-25:12
The book of Acts stops at chapter 28, verse 31. But the reader is left hanging in mid-air, with the definite impression that Acts may have stopped there, but it doesn't end there:
The book of Acts is still being written. Like the Gospel of Luke, the book of Acts is yet another record of the things Jesus ‘began both to do and to teach.’ Jesus isn’t finished yet. He began His ministry in His human body, as recorded in the Gospels. He continued in His body, the church, through the book of Acts. He continues His ministry today through you and me and every other believer on the planet. The book of Acts will be completed someday. And when it is completed, you and I will have a chance to read it in glory, in eternity, when the plan of God has been fulfilled. When we read it, what will my part be in that great story? And what will yours be? –- Ray Stedman, Adventuring Through the Bible
Stand in the Rain is taking a long look at various aspects of believers' testimonies--the stories, in-the-making right now, that will someday appear in "Acts 29."
As we speak of these stories in general, we encourage you to think, in particular, about the tale your own life is telling--and to "edit" (where necessary) before publication!
***
Jesus is an action figure. He's animated, ever on the move. When I was a kid, I saw a movie, "Lilies of the Field," which featured the song "Amen." It was sung by Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier) who was an itinerant carpenter who built a church. (You're making the connection, right?)
Here are the lyrics:
See the baby
Wrapped in the manger
On Christmas morning
See him in the temple
Talking with the elders
Who marvel at his wisdom
Down at the Jordan
Where John was baptizing
And saving all sinners
See him at the seaside
Talking with the fishermen
And making them disciples
Marching in Jerusalem
Over palm branches
In pomp and splendor
See him in the garden
Praying to his Father
In deepest sorrow
Led before Pilot
Then they crucified him
But he rose on Easter
Hallelujah
He’s there to save us
And he lives for ever

***
The lyrics convey the goin', flowin', non-stop motion that marked the life of Jesus. He was ever on the way, and just by being with him the disciples were ever in transit and transition. Whether geographically or spiritually, they were going, growing, becoming.
As his current disciples, the stories that our lives are telling--to be published, someday, in Acts 29--should be kinetic: conveying a sense of going places, of getting somewhere. We're not a religion, we're a movement.
Salvation never stops. In the Old Testament, our salvation is depicted geographically, from Egypt to The Promised Land. It is also depicted architecturally, sweeping through the tabernacle from the door to the core (the Holy of Holies).
In the New Testament, even faith is on the move in this pivotal verse:
The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.   (Romans 1:17)
As our faith moves us, we approach closer and closer to Christ-likeness:
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory,  just as by the Spirit of the Lord.   (2 Corinthians 3:18)
***
So make sure your story is a motion picture -- a movie, not a portrait. In that way it will truly reflect Jesus, who never stopped until he was nailed to the cross.
Come to think of it, even that didn't stop him.
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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Acts 29, part 4: "tell the Jesus you know"

The Word for today:
Acts 24:1-21
Stand in the Rain doesn't delve much into "application." That's because the problem with mankind (that would be "me") is not really the ethic (what to do) but the dynamic (how to do it). Most of us knew right from wrong in kindergarten. Then we went out and did just the opposite for, oh, the next thirty-five years! So you won't be getting a list of "Five Things Which Will Improve Your Life This Week" from this source.
What you will find here is Jesus--whose life is our ethic, whose Spirit is our dynamic. The Law and the to-do list leave us lost, but there's wonder-working power in His Person.
Not as application then, but as a public service, the Stand in the Rain bloggers are volunteering our hard-earned writing experience to believers everywhere who are in the process of "writing" their portion of "Acts 29"--
The book of Acts is still being written. Like the Gospel of Luke, the book of Acts is yet another record of the things Jesus ‘began both to do and to teach.’ Jesus isn’t finished yet. He began His ministry in His human body, as recorded in the Gospels. He continued in His body, the church, through the book of Acts. He continues His ministry today through you and me and every other believer on the planet. The book of Acts will be completed someday. And when it is completed, you and I will have a chance to read it in glory, in eternity, when the plan of God has been fulfilled. When we read it, what will my part be in that great story? And what will yours be? – Ray Stedman, Adventuring Through the Bible
By applying a writer's eye to believers' stories in general, we hope to prompt you to think, in particular, about the tale your own life is telling -- and to "edit" (where necessary) before publication!
(Yesterday's article was devoted to character, which is the most important element of any story. The article pronounced Acts 29 Axiom #1: You are not the Star of your story.) 
***
The Christian life has never been easy for me--and I lay the blame at the feet of just one person: Jesus. He's a complex character, who has become my life. So, de facto, life is complex.
I often do not know what Jesus would do in a given circumstance. So I close my eyes and ride His Spirit (some say it's my own hot air) to destinations unforeseen. I don't plan. I don't contemplate. I just ride a current I do not command. I trust Jesus Christ more than I understand him.
I tell people about this Jesus and they look at me as if I just arrived from the nether regions of Pluto. I've gotten more trouble and misunderstanding for doing what I think he would do, than for what I would have done. But he's the only Jesus I know, so he's the only Jesus I've got. You see my plight, right?
I'm as stuck with him as he is with me. What, then, am I to do--but to cherish him and follow him to only God knows where.
***
I was heartened this summer by the writings of the late, great teacher/evangelist Leighton Ford. It so happens that I found myself sitting in a sensational class using "Meeting Jesus," a booklet written by Ford, to generate some sizzling discussion. Here are just a few of the chapter titles:
"The Real Jesus"
"The Surprising Jesus"
"Jesus the Challenging Savior"
"Jesus the Puzzling King"
Sitting there, it struck me: That's him! That's the Jesus I know! Leighton Ford--thank God--is as crazy as I am!
***
Yesterday we learned the Acts 29 Axiom #1: You are not the Star of your story.
Today's Acts 29 Axiom # 2 is a corollary: Tell the Jesus you know.
You might not recognize the Jesus I know, or the Jesus Leighton Ford knows, or the Jesus Happy Howard Bruning knows. And they might not recognize yours. That's because he's personal, individual, and unique to every one. He's infinite, so he can mean limitless things to limitless people; he's a shade different to Matthew than to Mark than to Luke than to John...
For example, I don't need guts, but I do need the heavy hand of guidance. So I know a Jesus with a heavy hand.
You may not need discipline, but you might need encouragement. So as I'm telling you about a Jesus who makes me toe the line, you're telling me about a Jesus who lifts you up and over lines of limitation which aren't really there.
It takes the whole church to express Jesus, because it takes the whole church to know Jesus. If, in your portion of "Acts 29," you don't tell the Jesus you know, then we're all left with "The Incomplete Jesus" --which was not a chapter in Leighton Ford's marvelous book!
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