Let them see you.

Let them see you.

Acts 26:4 “‘The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem.”

Today I am 52 years and 1 day. How this can be I do not know. It has been a long time since we were able to fit candles on my cake. Yesterday I had just a number 5 and a number 2 and sadly it was in that order. Messages poured in from people who said I was still young and in my prime to those who said I was now so old I was senile and virtually every part of my body was now not working like it should. It was a mixed day!

Those messages came from people who have known how I have lived since I was born.

My parents sent me messages. My school friend sent me a message. College friends, work colleagues from different jobs, members from the 2 churches I pastored, close friends who have walked with me for years, leaders from the UK and around the world all sent messages. These people “all know the way I have lived” and for some “ever since I was a child” and in different parts of the world too. They know my beliefs, my values, my priorities, the vision I follow, the challenges I face, the struggles I have. For some they have seen that for many years.

My life is far from perfect. I have failed throughout the years. If I could do life again I know I would do it better. However, being known is worth the vulnerability, drawing people into your life is the essence of it all.

Today I am thankful for the people who have known and know me. I look forward to the years ahead of engaging with the old and new. My encouragement for you today is to continue to engage with people. You may have been hurt but do not pull up your draw bridge. Friends will come and go, families will separate and some severely, but there will always people to journey with.

Let people come close enough to see how you live. It is good for them and it is good for you.

Finding someone who knows

Finding someone who knows

Acts 26: 3 “… and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.”

Paul is defending himself before Agrippa. We now see the reason why he thinks himself fortunate. It is because he is not speaking to someone who doesn’t understand the Jewish culture. Agrippa was not ignorant and because of that Paul felt safe to begin his defence.

Finding somebody who not only will listen to you but who understands your life is so important.

Those who are ignorant to your life, work, your ways and challenges can only offer nodding heads and passing comments which may not help but also hinder your progress.

We all need someone who understands and who can see the difficulties we go through. They may even be people you would never expect to know. Agrippa’s great grandfather was Herod the Great who had attempted to kill Jesus as a child. His father was King Agrippa I, who beheaded James and tried to kill Peter also. The point is you wouldn’t think Agrippa standing as judge before Paul would be making him feel fortunate. Don’t dismiss people outside of your situation or profession or even culture. Like Paul you may end up saying ‘I am fortunate to have you and to speak with you’.

 

It could be worse

It could be worse

Acts 26:2 ‘King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defence against all the accusations of the Jews,’

This does seem strange doesn’t it?!

After Paul had spent 2 long years waiting for trial on trumped up charges, he has had to defend himself before Felix, then Festus and now King Agrippa. So in today’s verse we may not know why he deems himself fortunate but we can ask ourselves how can he say such a thing?

In lesser difficult circumstances we would not be saying we are fortunate.

Paul has learnt to be content in all circumstances it would seem.

He has learnt to find the good, to focus on the positive, even when the situation is bad and everything is negative.

“It could be worse’ is his motto.

Is the glass half empty or half full for you?

It is easy to think that our difficult situation is completely at a loss and there is nothing good at all. Maybe today we can all begin to appreciate what we have? Instead of always focusing on what we don’t have we should find something to be thankful for, someone to appreciate and realise that things could be much worse and that indeed we are fortunate.

 

 

Raise your hand

Raise your hand

Acts 26: 1 “Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You have permission to speak for yourself.’ So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defence…”

Acts 12:17; 13:16; 21:40; and here in this verse today, Paul before he speaks motions with his hand.

Ancient statues throughout cities and towns have some orator speaking with a hand raised. We can easily imagine this scene.

So why did Paul do this and why did Luke record it and more importantly what lesson can we learn? Let me try and answer this from 3 perspectives.

  1. For those ready to start a new chapter (as we have done today!): Be ready to begin.

The hand signal was the sign he was beginning. Just as in the athletic world a hand for many years being raised by the referee was the sign that the race was to begin. Are you ready? If called upon you to give your testimony, share your faith, can you raise your hand and say I am ready? Are you ready? If God called you to speak up, move out, change course would you bravely raise your hand and move into that new moment?

  1. For those who are called to communicate: Listening is easier when we have something to look at.

Recently someone recounted how they had to listen to a communicator read their entire talk from their script, head down and totally disengaged with the crowd. The result was they didn’t listen. Communicators have to get better at communication and that is not necessarily finding the right words but also finding the right way to say them. Everything from the way you dress, the way you stand and what you do with your hands can be major distractions to what you are saying.

  1. For those who are frustrated at their circumstance: Don’t be the loudest voice, be the only voice.

Be different. Don’t fit into the noise. You are unique and you need to live your life how God created you. Learn to silence your world so that your voice can be heard. “No one knows I am here, no one cares, no one is listening” then make it happen. This is your moment to shine and thrive, to be all that you can be, to step out from the shadows. Don’t let any man contain you, suppress you, mould you into something you were never created to be, raise your hand, silence the intimidation.

This is your moment, raise your hand.

Common sense is not all that common

Common sense is not all that common

Acts 25:27 “For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him.”

Festus thinks that if he sends Paul to the Emperor without a report of the charges against him it will look ‘silly’ (Message), ‘absurd’ (Amplified), ‘no sense’ (NLT). It is ‘unreasonable’. Festus is using common sense.

I need to qualify what I am about to write before I write it: I am the first to say that God can speak in ways higher than our ways. God can ask us to do the most unusual of things: Elijah ate from a bird; Ezekiel laid on his left side for 390 days; Hosea named his children ‘unloved’ and ‘not my people’. But I have also known people to do the most ridiculous of things because ‘God asked them to’ that turned out to be indeed ridiculous.

However … I believe common sense is underrated, especially the common sense within the life of a follower of Christ.

This verse today inspires me to thank God He gave us a brain that can perceive, understand and judge situations without some specialised knowledge/gift or training. I speak not of human wisdom per se but a common sense that has been touched and influenced by the Spirit of God. Paul in 1 Corinthians 2 writes about how the Spirit does not bypass our minds but works in our lives to give us the mind of the Lord. Paul says we have wisdom taught us by the Spirit which is above the wisdom of the world.

I believe as a Spirit filled follower of Christ that you can make an informed decision that turns out to be the best one simply because your mind has been trained by the Spirit. This decision process is far better than that of Festus or anyone else who doesn’t know Christ.

Since an early age I was always worried I might ‘step pout of the will of God for my life’. What does God want me to do? That question became such a strain on me. I looked at others who seemed to hear from God so easily and for me well I would either make it up to join the crowd or fall into discouragement that God doesn’t like me because He doesn’t speak to me like the others.

For the majority of my life I have lived hearing people say: “God has told me or God has confirmed to me”. I have not heard many people say “It seems good to us (our own thinking in a group accountability setting) and the Spirit (who is within us)”. I wonder why?

  • Some people need God to tell them to do everything (I found this a bit tiresome as a parent when wanting my children to use their own brains, but I am sure God is not tired by this!).
  • Some people know what they should do but are uncertain and lack faith so look for confirmatory signs that what they are going to do anyway (whether they get the confirmation or not) is indeed the right thing.
  • Some people talk to trusted disciples of Christ to gauge response to decisions they have to make and then rely on the Spirit within them to interrupt or indeed work with their mind in that decision. That interruption could come through a prophetic word. But in the majority of cases the reports are that interestingly it is more of a confirmation than an interruption.

For me I find the last one more mature. I think it is okay to wake today and make decisions that seem more reasonable, have more common sense, within an accountability filter, knowing the Spirit is giving us the mind of Christ. I don’t necessarily think I need to get a ‘divine special word’. I actually think the common sense I have in my brain is good (some may disagree!). It has freed me up. I can do my world with the Spirit within me. I can have fun. I can make decisions. Actually it is okay if not everything goes right for me so long as I made the decision as best I could, there are lessons to be learnt in mistakes. This journey with the Spirit is far better than being told what to do on everything or being such a nervous wreck I am looking for signs in my breakfast cereal that God is smiling approvingly at me.

Let’s have more common sense, it isn’t all that common.

Decisions

Decisions

Acts 25:26 “But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write.”

Festus admits defeat. He cannot find anything to write about Paul to Caesar. Paul has not committed any crimes worthy of a trial in Rome. Festus would look foolish to send Paul to the Emperor without a reasoned report. So he is now hoping others especially Agrippa will be able to see something that he cannot.

Yesterday I was discussing with the students of the Missionary Academy how in some cultures the Bible is always read and studied together. One couple shared how as they were studying the Bible together they both saw things differently and yet it brought a fuller understanding. When I was a Pastor I had a season where I brought together groups of people to read the passage I would preach from before I actually prepared the message. Their task with me was to discover something through the lens of many not just mine. It went against my cultural upbringing of going into a solitary place with my Bible and God and coming down the mountain with a powerful word!

I say all that because this verse can tell us something today: we need others. Whether it is in the understanding of the Bible or trying to understand a person or situation, we need someone who is looking from a different angle.

If you are trying to make a decision today and you are not sure what to do then make sure you do not do that alone. Draw others in. Ask them what they see and what they would do. Remember that even from their perspective it is not complete. But the more sides you see into that decision making process the better you will be for making the decision.

What does He see?

What does He see?

Acts 25:25 “I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome.”

Festus had looked into the accusations against Paul and spent time with him and found nothing deserving his death of which the Jewish mob had demanded.

The enemy of Paul had failed.

On a much lesser level perhaps we all need to realise the failure of our constant accuser of our life. John in Revelation (12:10-11) says he accuses day and night. Can you imagine waking up today having had a restless night with condemning thoughts and then going through the day having doubts about your abilities and who you are? And can you imagine in all of that trying to be the best you can be for others, yourself and for God?

I want to give you 2 important words from this verse that jumped out at me when I read it this morning. A verse that Festus speaks but he uses two words that belong to God: I found

When God looks at you, when He investigates you, what does he find?

One of the most destructive events in the Bible, the plague on Egypt, was prevented from coming on the people of God because of the blood that was on their houses. But see this:

Exodus 12:13. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

When I see the blood. 12:23. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.

When I see the blood, it doesn’t say when you see it. It is what God finds on you. He finds the sacrifice of His Son. He finds His righteousness placed on you. He finds no condemnation. He finds grace, mercy, forgiveness.

Colossians 3:3 “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

What people find is immaterial. What your enemies find matters not. Even what you may find in your self-condemnatory life does not count. It is what HE finds that counts.

I do love Chris Tomlins song ‘Indescribable’. It is a song that is trying to describe the indescribable God. He is high, He is deep, no one can fathom Him, He is uncontainable, all powerful, untameable and we are awestruck. However, it is almost the last line of the song which I particular value: “You see the depths of my heart and you love me the same”. YOU SEE. That is the point. Our faith needs to be on what He sees.

If we lived our life on what He sees and what He finds and not what we know and what the accuser says then maybe we will live better and perhaps the many decisions of life will be easier.

Festus saw and found nothing. Our Father in heaven sees and finds the blood of Christ, we are hidden in Him!

 

It’s not in the verse, but it is the answer!

It’s not in the verse, but it is the answer!

Acts 25:24 “Festus said: “King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer.”

When Festus said ‘the whole Jewish community’ he was referring to all the Sanhedrin and the chief priests who wanted Paul dead.
“You see this man, everyone wants him dead.”
You may know what it is like to be centre stage and have such pressure from all around you that it is strangling the very life out of you. The circumstances and people of your world are looking at you and crushing you, shouting at you, demanding more.
Some days you are just standing there in the crowds of people but alone because no one understands
Paul had waited for trial, imprisoned for 2 years. The same people wanting him dead had also waited. They hadn’t changed their mind, they hadn’t altered their cause. Some people can be so persistent when they want to be. The time rolls by and nothing has changed, if desire was enough then life would be easier by now, but desire isn’t, the pressure is the same.

How do you get through it?
So I look back into the verse for an answer to that question. But I don’t find that answer. There are no people who can help, Festus, Agrippa, the Jewish contingent all play a role in Paul’s life but they don’t give him the answer. They have their own agenda. People will not change till they get what they want from your life. There are no places that can help. If Paul went to Jerusalem it would get worse for him if he remained in Caesarea it wouldn’t change.

If you are in a situation that is similar to Paul today and you are feeling the crush of the crowd. Then there is probably nothing from within your circumstance, whether people or places that can help to change that for you. The answer is outside the verse. God is outside. He has brought this verse into being. In order to get through it then you need to go to Him. We don’t see Paul pray or worship or read the Scriptures. Others may never see your devotional life, all they will see is you and the verse of pressure and challenge and they will ask as we ask of Paul, “How do they get through it?” The answer is not in the verse, it often isn’t. It is hidden, in a secret place, where you go every day in order to get through that day.

Rags and Riches

Rags and Riches

Acts 25:23 “The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.”

The words of Jesus: “They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.” Luke 21:12

The gospel is not only for the poor and lowly. Jesus said there will be times when people of His name will stand before the highest ranking offices.

The beggars look up and want the gospel that gives to them. The lofty look down and want the gospel that strokes their achievements. The gospel tells both that their sin can be forgiven. Sin isn’t just found behind the rags but also the riches.

Paul said: “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22

Are we ready to take the gospel upward? To those with ‘great pomp’ and ‘high-ranking’ and who are ‘prominent’? Maybe God will bring you in to that arena as He did with Paul? Maybe today you shouldn’t dress down but dress up? The rich person across the street needs a friend as much as the poor man in the gutter.

From the horse’s mouth

From the horse’s mouth

Acts 25: 22 “Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear this man myself.” He replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him.”

We have a phrase that we use in Britain to indicate you are getting information from the closest source, “straight from the horse’s mouth”. It comes from the horse racing industry where the punters are trying to find out which horses are in best form. Of course they could ask the trainers or the stable boys who look after the horse, those who are on the inner circle. But “from the horse’s mouth’” is supposed to indicate there is a closer step than even the inner circle, that is to ask the horse itself, a strange thought I agree!

Agrippa wasn’t content to hear about the trial case from Festus, he wanted to hear from Paul. He wanted to know Paul’s view on things, on what he was being accused of, on his beliefs.

How often we can just take what people say about someone as gospel truth. Yet we forget or we don’t have time to seek out the person concerned to hear their story. We hear from the trainer but not the horse. We focus on facts and not intention, matter not motives and actions above attitudes. That is why we often make wrong judgments. Facts, matter and actions may result in the person being in the wrong but intention, motives and attitudes reveal why they got themselves in that predicament in the first place. As we walk the fine line of righteousness and grace we need to know what people in general leave out of the story telling. They do it because we don’t have time for the full story, we want the headlines and the bare detail not the reasoning.

Why not gear yourself up to always say “I want to hear it from the horse’s mouth”? Make time to speak to the person concerned and more importantly hear from them.