God’s soldiers will lift you up.

God’s soldiers will lift you up.

Acts 21:35 “When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers.”

As Paul was being led away to the barracks the mob surged forward. They had one desire for Paul which had already been made clear but they will reiterate it with their shouts in the next verse! They wanted Paul dead. So Paul is hoisted up into the arms of the soldiers and on other occasions this could look like Paul had been victorious but it was for his safety.

Very simply today I want to say that there are times when the enemy of our lives will press in so quickly and so violently that God will lift us up into the arms of safety.

God can reach you.  He knows where you are. You may be in the middle of a violent mob. You may have people shouting at you. You may even be the victim of a whispering campaign but the damage is equally as severe.

Well don’t give up, don’t lose all hope. He knows where you are. He will lift you up like Paul in the arms of the soldiers. God has soldiers He will use. God will use anyone. But you will be lifted.

Only believe, don’t doubt, only believe. Don’t look at what you don’t have, only believe. Don’t think of the lost opportunities, only believe. Don’t look at the danger, only believe. Don’t think of what might happen, only believe. God can and will take hold of you.

God is more involved in your life than any angry mob.

An audience with One.

An audience with One.

Acts 21:34 “Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks.”

“I can’t hear myself think!” I am sure we have all said that, well those of us in Britain anyway as it is one of our many sayings. Simply meaning it is too noisy.

There were mixed messages being shouted from the crowd and it was so noisy that it was just impossible to know where the truth lay in whom Paul was and what he had done. The commander ordered Paul into the barracks. The answers would not lay in the loudness of the crowd but in a one to one with Paul

Maybe today there are decisions to make. You need to turn down the volume. The traffic noise from all kinds of technology and people will try and prevent you from seeing and knowing the truth. The crescendo of different opinions can lead you not knowing what to do.

Shutting down the computer, turning off your phone and closing the door could be the most important things you have done for some time. The truth lies not in the loudness of the crowd but in the audience with the One. Who is that One for you?

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Safe in the hands of the enemy

Safe in the hands of the enemy

Acts 21:32 “The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done.”

You may not be where you want to be today.

You may be chained and unable to move.

You may have soldiers flanking you.

You may be arrested and it may appear you are in great trouble.

You may not be known.

Your work may not be appreciated.

You may think you are in the hands of the enemy.

But this can be the safest place for you right now.

You are where God wants you to be.

God has used difficulty to save you.

Pain has become your protection.

The restriction on you is for His higher purpose.

The wrong is serving the right.

You are safe.

 

Here comes the Church!

Here comes the Church!

Acts 21:32 “He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.”

Paul was being killed by the angry but deceived mob. At the same time news had reached the commander of the Roman troops that Jerusalem was in uproar.

Why did the rioters stop beating Paul? This maybe obvious to you but it could be one or all 5 of the following:

  1. Authority
  2. Power
  3. A united front.
  4. Momentum
  5. All the above was seen.

…. And they saved Paul who was moments from death.

There are many who are being beaten in life.

Here comes the Church:

With authority (Luke 9:1; 10:19 and many more) given to us by Christ. Our position. Paul would later write about us being seated with Christ.

Here comes the Church:

With Power. Closely tied with authority. Power flows from authority. It acts and influences from the position of authority. In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 it starts with ‘Therefore’. It sits between authority and power. Christ says ‘I have all authority’ (therefore) ‘Go into all the world’. From the base of authority power flows, the ability, the skill, being equipped for every good work to influence many.

Here comes the Church:

In Unity. We must never underestimate the influence of agreement. The early Church were one in their aspirations and their deliberations. There were no selfish claims. The gospel was effective and the grace of God provided for any need whatsoever. How? They were united. (Acts 4:32-35)

Here comes the Church:

With momentum. David Killed Goliath because of the sling in momentum. We have to keep on doing what we should be doing and God will do what only He can do. I long to see 2 movements: that of God’s people and of God. Acts 2:46-47 says that God’s people were continuing to do what they should do (building momentum) and God was doing what only He could do in building His Church.

Here comes the Church:

Seen. I live in a parallel universe. In one part of the world the Church to survive has to hide and be like yeast in dough. Their buildings are perhaps on the lower or upper floor of the Pastors house. In some nations it is difficult to find the Church because of the danger, nevertheless it is there. But then in the safety of the West I find the same sometimes. It is hard to find the church. Where is the Church? Paul says that it is the purpose of God that His wisdom be seen through the Church by the principalities and powers of this world. Let the Church be seen in all sectors of life.

Hang in there!

Hang in there!

Acts 21: 31 “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.”

If you have been following this story over the recent days then you know that Paul has been suffering at the hands of deceptive men. He has been lied against, slandered and now seized and dragged out of the temple.

Let the words slow down as you read them, “While they were trying to kill him”.

Can you imagine this? Paul is slowly losing his life. It is going from bad to worse. They are trying to kill him! But wait, there is an important word here … “while”.

WHILE they were trying to kill him … something else was happening that Paul was not aware of but would prove to be very important. News of the uproar in the city reached the commander. We will find out what happens next but it resulted in Paul’s life being spared.

I am aware today that right across the world there will be people experiencing an attack of some kind. You may even be feeling that things are looking like it is over. You have no control on your future perhaps and it is slipping away. But wait …. WHILE!!

While this is happening God is still at work. Behind the scenes, away from you and the situation … God! So don’t give up, hang in there, it is God who gives life and ends life. It is God who says when it is over, no one else. WHILE this is happening tough that it might be … GOD hasn’t finished!

 

 

 

The sacred space

The highs and lows of the sacred space.

Acts 21: 30 “The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut.”

 

  1. Their sacred space was in trouble and the whole city came running not knowing to expect.

The Jews had their temple and the Muslims have their mosques, we used to have our Church buildings. I am not sure if we were told that the Church in our town was under attack in some way that we would leave our homes and go running towards the event. In many ways I am pleased our sacred space is not in a building. The world tells us now that the sacred space is our freedom to be, to decide, to choose who and whatever we want, woe to those who try to invade that sacred, untouchable space of human will. The world reacts badly if it sees human rights violated in any way. On one side of the world the human rights of the minority are taken away or punished. The minority are seen only as ‘sinners’ in the eyes of whatever religion or creed is the majority and the opposite side of the world reacts and comes running. Yet in the side of the world that reacts to that there is also a violation of the human rights of the minority but because these people are seen as ‘sinners’ within culture in the eyes of whatever religion or creed then it is not seen as a violation but trying to keep society ‘clean’ and the runners who run to the other side of the world bypass their own tragedy. The whole world not just a city is aroused because of an invasion of the sacred space and is running from all directions to try and save it in some place or the other.

  1. Paul and his friend are not welcome in God’s sacred space.

The gates are shut. The reason is that this violation of the Gentile entering the forbidden areas of the temple cannot continue. Sin needs to be got rid of. We need to cut it out.

You may have heard this illustration many times but it is worth another read. In his book The Kingdom of God Is a Party, Tony Campolo relates an experience he had late one night in Hawaii.

“Up a side street I found a little place that was still open. I went in, took a seat on one of the stools at the counter, and waited to be served. This was one of those sleazy places that deserves the name, “greasy spoon.” I did not even touch the menu. I was afraid that if I opened the thing something gruesome would crawl out. But it was the only place I could find.

The fat guy behind the counter came over and asked me, “What d’ya want?”

I said I wanted a cup of coffee and a donut.

He poured a cup of coffee, wiped his grimy hand on his smudged apron, and then he grabbed a donut off the shelf behind him. I’m a realist. I know that in the back room of that restaurant, donuts are probably dropped on the floor and kicked around. But when everything is out front where I could see it, I really would have appreciated it if he had used a pair of tongs and placed the donut on some wax paper.

As I sat there munching on my donut and sipping my coffee at 3:30 in the morning, the door of the diner suddenly swung open and, to my discomfort, in marched eight or nine provocative and boisterous prostitutes.

It was a small place, and they sat on either side of me. Their talk was loud and crude. I felt completely out of place and was just about to make my getaway when I overheard the woman beside me say, “Tomorrow’s my birthday. I’m going to be 39.”

Her “friend” responded in a nasty tone, “So what do you want from me? A birthday party? What do you want? Ya want me to get you a cake and sing ‘Happy Birthday’?”

“Come on,” said the woman sitting next to me. “Why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that’s all. Why do you have to put me down? I was just telling you it was my birthday. I don’t want anything from you. I mean, why should you give me a birthday party? I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?”

When I heard that, I made a decision. I sat and waited until the women had left. Then I called over the fat guy behind the counter, and I asked him, “Do they come in here every night?”

“Yeah!” he answered.

“The one right next to me, does she come here every night?”

“Yeah!” he said. “That’s Agnes. Yeah, she comes in here every night. Why d’ya wanta know?”

“Because I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday,” I told him. “What do you say you and I do something about that? What do you think about us throwing a birthday party for her—right here—tomorrow night?”

A cute smile slowly crossed his chubby cheeks, and he answered with measured delight, “That’s great! I like it! That’s a great idea!” Calling to his wife, who did the cooking in the back room, he shouted, “Hey! Come out here! This guy’s got a great idea. Tomorrow’s Agnes’s birthday. This guy wants us to go in with him and throw a birthday party for her—right here—tomorrow night!”

His wife came out of the back room all bright and smiley. She said, “That’s wonderful! You know Agnes is one of those people who is really nice and kind, and nobody does anything nice and kind for her.”

“Look,” I told them, “if it’s okay with you, I’ll get back here tomorrow morning about 2:30 and decorate the place. I’ll even get a birthday cake!”

“No way,” said Harry (that was his name). “The birthday cake’s my thing. I’ll make the cake.”

At 2:30 the next morning, I was back at the diner. I had picked up some crepe-paper decorations at the store and had made a sign out of big pieces of cardboard that read, “Happy Birthday, Agnes!” I decorated the diner from one end to the other. I had that diner looking good.

The woman who did the cooking must have gotten the word out on the street, because by 3:15 every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. It was wall-to-wall prostitutes…and me!

At 3:30 on the dot, the door of the diner swung open, and in came Agnes and her friend. I had everybody ready (after all, I was kind of the M.C. of the affair) and when they came in we all screamed, “Happy birthday!”

Never have I seen a person so flabbergasted…so stunned…so shaken. Her mouth fell open. Her legs seemed to buckle a bit. Her friend grabbed her arm to steady her. As she was led to sit on one of the stools along the counter, we all sang “Happy Birthday”‘ to her. As we came to the end of our singing with “happy birthday, dear Agnes, happy birthday to you,” her eyes moistened. Then, when the birthday cake with all the candles on it was carried out, she lost it and just openly cried.

Harry gruffly mumbled, “Blow out the candles, Agnes! Come on! Blow out the candles! If you don’t blow out the candles, I’m gonna hafta blow out the candles.” And, after an endless few seconds, he did. Then he handed her a knife and told her, “Cut the cake, Agnes. Yo, Agnes, we all want some cake.”

Agnes looked down at the cake. Then without taking her eyes off it, she slowly and softly said, “Look, Harry, is it all right with you if I…I mean is it okay if I kind of…what I want to ask you is…is it O.K. if I keep the cake a little while? I mean, is it all right if we don’t eat it right away?”

Harry shrugged and answered, “Sure! It’s O.K. If you want to keep the cake, keep the cake. Take it home, if you want to.”

“Can I?” she asked. Then, looking at me, she said, “I live just down the street a couple of doors. I want to take the cake home, okay? I’ll be right back. Honest!”

She got off the stool, picked up the cake, and carrying it like it was the Holy Grail, walked slowly toward the door. As we all just stood there motionless, she left.

When the door closed, there was a stunned silence in the place. Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, “What do you say we pray?”

Looking back on it now, it seems more than strange for a sociologist to be leading a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes in a diner in Honolulu at 3:30 in the morning. But then it just felt like the right thing to do. I prayed for Agnes. I prayed for her salvation. I prayed that her life would be changed and that God would be good to her.

When I finished, Harry leaned over the counter and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he said, “Hey! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?” In one of those moments when just the right words came, I answered, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning.”

Harry waited a moment and then almost sneered as he answered, “No you don’t. There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. I’d join a church like that!”

Wouldn’t we all? Wouldn’t we all like to join a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning?

Well, that’s the kind of church that Jesus came to create!”

Maybe this weekend you can look around the people in your Church and see the ones you do not normally associate with. They may be ‘sinners’ or social outcasts, people with a stigma perhaps. Look at them and thank God that your Church didn’t close its doors to them.

  1. They compartmentalised their sacred space from their place of activity.

“This is what we do here, we worship and we sacrifice, for this is God’s space.

But this is what we do here, we seize, we drag and we intend to kill.

Look how good we are, we do not defile the temple by trying to kill Paul and the Gentile within it.

This is our Sunday face, our Sunday words and actions. Look how nice we are as we worship Him amongst the believers. These are our holy hands that we lift in the air, look how high we lift them. These are our obedient ears, we are listening attentively to the Bible, to the exposition. This is our holy money which we give with gladness, look how much we have given, it is good to give.

Now let’s close the doors.

This is our Monday to Saturday face …

This is where we put right the wrongs.

This is where we sit and judge and criticise the folly of man.

This is where we express that proverb which is almost biblical, ‘I’m only human’”.

 

The highs and lows of the sacred space.

Crowds can be dangerous places

Crowds can be dangerous places

Acts 21:29 “(They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)”

The Jews from Asia (most probably Ephesus) had one thing in mind and that was to discredit Paul and to remove him. They had seen Paul in the temple with some men worshipping as part of a Nazirite vow they were keeping. Their interpretation of what they were seeing was only partly true. They had previously seen Paul with a non-Jew, Trophimus, now they assumed he was one of the four men in the temple with Paul and this defiling it, he wasn’t.

They assumed. They took for granted what appeared to be true but there was no proof that it was so.

The crowd was so large that they easily believed it to be true because they had already been fed a lie that Paul was denouncing the laws of Moses.

We must be careful when with our large groups of friends that we do not just accept everything that is set before us as the gospel truth. In those settings we may not even get the opportunity to question what is being passed around as certainty and even if we did we may feel intimidated to be the only one to question the position. Large groups are feeding grounds for untruths and assumptions.

May we never fall in with the crowd and feed on whatever the crowd is feeding on simply because we want to fall in line.

May we be free from assumption and may we remain fixed on only what is true.

Zoom out

Zoom out!

Acts 21: 28 “They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, ‘Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.”

The Jews in Jerusalem had previously been fed a lie that Paul was denouncing the law of Moses. In order to appease the situation the Apostle James tells Paul to go into the temple and enter into the purification rites with 4 Jewish leaders and pay for their Nazirite vow. Paul does this. But then Jews from Asia hell-bent on destroying Paul enter into the scene and convince the Jews of Jerusalem to rise up against Paul. It is a scene that is played out even 2,000 years later in many circumstances of life.

Appearing to be true doesn’t mean it is true.

Having the majority all agree doesn’t mean they are right.

Seeing a man captured and held against his will doesn’t mean he has committed a crime.

Having a rumour confirmed by others outside of the situation doesn’t make it true.

And the reverse is true.

Assuming people are who you think they are is no proof they are.

In the opening scene of the Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon a Professor in symbology shows pictures that are zoomed in so that the audience think they know what it is, but when the picture is zoomed out it reveals how wrong they were. So:

A white hooded robe was not from the Klu Klux Klan but robes worn by Spanish priests.

What appeared to be Michaelangelos’s Madonna and Child is actually the sculpture of the pagan god Oris and his mother Isis.

I like that scene because it reminds me that sometimes zooming out is as important as zooming in. We all know the importance of examining the fine details of things. But sometimes we are too close to the situation to see anything. We value the eyes of those outside of it to give us some new revelation. I have found wisdom is found as we step back and maybe a few steps back. We have to learn to zoom out more. And if we cannot then we need to find trusted people outside of the situation to comment on what we cannot see.

 

Trouble and comfort

Trouble and comfort

Acts 21:27 “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”

This is just typical isn’t it? So here is Paul who has followed orders from James and the elders who on being worried that the Jews in Jerusalem would rise up against Paul because they had been told he was pulling the Gentiles away from the law of Moses, asked Paul to support a purification rites ceremony and to pay for the Nazirite vows of 4 men. This was going to show the Jews of Jerusalem that Paul was not who they had been told he was. So then who was it who created the trouble? Who was it who stirred up the crowd? Was it the Jews of Jerusalem?!

Watch out for those on the outside of the situation.

Watch out for those on the banks of the river.

The critics are not often found on the field but from those who don’t go but watch.

Trouble comes from places you least expect.

Paul was seen and we don’t need a script to know the kind of thing that was said, “How dare he come into this temple that he defiles?!” The plan had been that Paul would be seen and the Jews of Jerusalem would say, “the rumours are wrong, Paul does not speak against the temple, here he is worshipping in it.”

The best laid plans can go adrift because of people who seem to be on a mission to judge everyone but themselves.

And yet this verse ends with a comforting thought. Check it again. We might think the word seized is negative. Well it is. Until we remember that this is the commencement of the prophecy of Agabus about to come true. He prophesied that Paul would be seized. Therefore, may the enemy of our lives do their best but they are just a pawn in God’s fore-sight and sovereignty! It is okay, nothing surprises our God!

 

Called to compromise

Called to compromise.

Acts 21:26  “The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.”

The Son of God became a baby though he is a king.

The Son of God took an ordinary name though he has the name above all names.

The Son of God wrapped a towel around his waist and became a servant though one day every knee will bow.

The Son of God became obedient to death on a criminals low-life cross even though he sits on an eternal throne.

Jesus compromised his position for God so loved the world …

The Apostle Paul went through a purification ceremony and he sponsored 4 men to enter a Nazirite vow. The men would fast from wine and grapes, they would not cut their hair and they would not go near anything dead. The vow could last a lifetime for some. Paul went to the temple and announced how long the vow would last and then a sacrificial animal offering was made to God as an act of thanksgiving, worship and cleansing.

Some are shocked, the Apostle Paul?! After all he has said about there being no need for such activity now that Jesus has come and here he is acting as a hypocrite!

Paul compromised his position to save a situation because of his love for the Jews.

Paul would say “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.” (! Corinthians 9:20)

We live in a world of hierarchy, of positions of importance and I speak of within the Church.

Those with the biggest titles have the hardest task to compromise their position in order to save and demonstrate their love.

‘Come down’ is the call of the Spirit. It is down where Jesus is and where Paul learnt to live.

There is no adulation in this place. This place is painful, it is sacrificial, it is very risky and you know people will talk about you. But they do not know your motives, they never know why, only a few know this, that you have come down because you love.