Beliefs matter

Beliefs matter

Acts 23:7 “When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.”

They were united in their hatred and pursuit of the followers of Jesus.

This unity papered over the cracks of their deep division over their beliefs.

Paul says that he is on trial because of his hope in the resurrection of the dead and then chaos erupts. The Sadducees say ‘No you are not as there is no resurrection’ and then the Pharisees start shouting down the Sadducees being resurrection believers.

On the 3rd June 2015, Jo Cox, MP to an area I know really well, Batley and Spen, gave her maiden speech in Parliament. One of the things she said was, “What surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us” Two years later, on the 16th of that same month of her maiden speech, she was killed by someone shouting ‘Britain First’, the far-right political party.

Yesterday Trump and May, leaders of the US and UK known for our close ties and unity, fell out with each other over Trump retweeting tweets that originated from ‘Britain First’.

We can have a show of unity over many things. These can be good and wholesome projects and pursuits. They can also be powerful displays of force against many evils in this world.

And yet …

In all of these united fronts and claims and statements, beliefs do matter. Jo Cox died because of beliefs. The Isis publication, Rumiyah announced that they were waging war against Sufis. To the rest of the world Sufis are Muslims, but not to Isis. “They will be exterminated in Egypt …” because of their “…sorcery, soothsaying and grave-worship.” So this week they targeted a mosque of a north Egyptian town where the population was only 800 people and killed 305 of them and left 128 seriously injured.

It has always been so, throughout history, united in many ways, but in the end what you believe does matter and it can lead you to take a life or lose your own.

What do you believe today?

Yesterday Peter was telling me how there is a new wave of persecution happening to our churches in northern India. Church planters are automatically imprisoned for 4 years without trial if someone reports them for witnessing Christ to them. Many have been imprisoned as their enemies pretend to convert only to get them imprisoned.

What do you believe about Jesus today?

Whilst the Church has nothing to be proud about in our history of the crusades and heretic witch hunts, today thankfully this is not the case.

Yet what we believe divides us.

If Jesus is the only way, that belief divides it doesn’t unite. We pursue unity but not at the cost of our beliefs.

Beliefs are precious. Our friends will walk from us because of them. We will lose many things in this life, even our lives. Beliefs will take us to eternity and beliefs will shape our eternity.

 

Know your audience

Know your audience

Acts 23: 6 “Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”

I have lost count of the times when people have come to see me but have not done any homework beforehand. From organisations who want to partner with us but who have not researched to see what exactly we already do to people who want to go overseas but haven’t been on the website to see where we are working, there seems to be a lack of desire to know their audience, namely me!

Paul knew his audience.

He knew within the Sanhedrin were Sadducees. They only held to the written Law and not any Oral tradition and so they did not believe in the Resurrection as it is not mentioned in the Torah. The Pharisees on the other hand held to a belief in the after-life and to judgment. They also believed in a Messiah to come.

The Sanhedrin accused Paul of violating the Temple by bringing in to the holy place Gentile men (He hadn’t) and also of believing in the resurrection of Jesus. He stands before the Sanhedrin and in one sentence begins to create an even bigger divide. Perhaps the High Priest was a Sadducee? In any case Paul aligns himself with those who believe in the resurrection, he was a Pharisee.

It is not what we believe that is of the greatest concern. You can attend all the courses in the world to become proficient at what you believe but if you cannot use the Koran to reach a Muslim or if you do not know that the Buddhist holds to values such as purity of heart, compassion, charity and humility very similar to Christianity then we are going to struggle to reach them. It is not what you know that is everything it is also what they know. You need to build a bridge for them to walk towards you.

Today when you are with people who do not know Christ, try and find out what they do believe. What values do they hold dear? What inspires them? What is the foundation of their life?

Know your audience.

Not everyone lies all the time.

Not everyone lies all the time.

Acts 23:5 “Paul replied, ‘Brothers, I did not realise that he was the high priest; for it is written: “Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.”

Paul is now accused of insulting the High Priest, Ananias, who had previously ordered for Paul to be struck.

How did Paul not know it was the High Priest who ordered him to be struck? I do not know.

Was Paul simply lying? I don’t believe so.

Was Paul actually being sarcastic by faking his shock and then quoting the Scripture showing everyone that he was different to the High Priest? (Because the High Priest flouted the Scriptural law that says no one should be struck before a trial). I don’t believe so.

Luke writes it how we read it.

Paul didn’t know it was the High Priest.

There are times when we ask these questions of others.

Are they lying?

Are they being deceptive?

Are they trying to trip me up?

Are they being sarcastic? Is there a hidden agenda here?

It is not a good place to be in. We all want to trust everyone around us. Trust is everything, the basis of any relationship.

But sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say, “Only God knows” but I will accept things at face-value. I choose to believe that what people tell me is the truth. I may be naïve, but there is no evidence to suggest anything other.

It is okay to believe the best in people.

Line-up with the offended and you could be standing with the hypocrite.

Line-up with the offended and you could be standing with the hypocrite.

Acts 23:4 “Those who were standing near Paul said, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?”

Those standing near had heard the High priest order the unscriptural launch of hitting Paul before a trial.
They had seen the striking of Paul.
They had heard Paul accuse Ananias of hypocrisy.
Now they had to make a decision of who to support. They chose Ananias.

Position often trumps behaviour.
We regularly see the powerful leaders of commerce, media, film and the church behave and speak wrongly. Yet for some, nothing is said, nothing is done, they are important, powerful, gifted leaders and that seems to be more important!
Those standing near lost sight of what was most important. The hypocrisy versus the offence and offence always wins.

Offence blinds hypocrisy.

Those who are least offended are so because they know they also have sins in their life, they have said things they shouldn’t have said. Those who are offended easily are blinded to their own hypocrisies. Recently on facebook I read a trail of statuses from people who were offended by a certain Church leader who had said something he probably shouldn’t have said. The statuses were led by a person I knew quite well and who had on numerous occasions said many a thing he shouldn’t have said!

The rebound of punishment

The rebound of punishment

Acts 23:3 “Then Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!’”

The Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 25 said that in order to be beaten the person had to be first proven guilty. This is what Paul meant when he called him a whitewashed wall, meaning he was acting as a hypocrite.

Paul may not realise he is prophesying when he says that Ananias would also be struck by God. Historians say actually happened as he spent the final years of his life running away from people who wanted to kill him and who finally got their wishes.

Did Paul speak harshly and angrily as a result of the painful strike on his mouth? Or was he calm? Some would want a peaceful Paul because raising your voice and angrily sentencing a punishment seems sinful.

We don’t know.

What I do know is that all my life I have tried to live by a childhood truth: to treat people the way I would want to be treated. Ananias ignored the Law and treated Paul the way he felt he should be treated.

You may feel all kinds of angry feelings. You may have desires of revenge. However, stay true to the Word of God and pause long enough to realise that one day it is possible that you would want someone to show you grace rather than judgment. Be careful with an offended heart, that it doesn’t punish for what goes out does come back to you.

 

A smack in the mouth

A smack in the mouth

Acts 23:2 ” At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.”

Paul defending himself says he has done no wrong but that he has fulfilled his duty before God and has a clear conscience.
His punishment was being punched in the mouth.
What a shock for Paul!
He had just a few seconds to prepare himself and then came the smack and it hurt no doubt.
How do you prepare yourself to be hurt? Seconds or minutes or hours does it actually matter how long you have? You know it’s coming.
Paul was punched in the mouth. Ananias wanted to shut Paul up so that’s why he was hit in the mouth.
The enemy of your soul will always try and shut you up and to close down your cause.
You state you are doing the will of God and your enemy will try to shut you up.
You state you are cleansed, forgiven and free and your enemy will try and silence you.
You see, this hurt can be self-inflicted. If you get serious about your walk with God then the hurt won’t be too far from you.
Those in battle expect that at some point it is more than possible that they will be shot at, injured and hurt.
So maybe it was not a complete shock for Paul, perhaps he was half expecting it. If he was then it certainly didn’t make him cautious or slow him down.
Maybe the time we have between the news of the hurt coming and actually arriving is easier to handle because we are simply not surprised, this is part of the course for those who on mission. So bring it on! Oh and don’t forget to duck!

Look straight ahead

Look straight ahead

Acts 23: 1 “Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”

Sometimes when I am with colleagues and we are thinking, I have to look away from them, I have to search in my gaze through the window or on the floor until I find that idea, the answer, the way forward. But once I have found it then I will look into their eyes to convince them of my unbelievable idea! (Exaggerating for effect!)

You see for me, looking straight comes when I have gained the confidence to do so.

Paul is now before his accusers who say he is guilty and deserves the judgment of God, he death penalty. They say he took at least one gentile into a holy place within the temple and defiled it. He didn’t. They were saying he was attacking and destroying Judaism. He wasn’t. He didn’t need to look away to think. He knew. His conscience was clear.

He looked straight ahead.

At times we all feel guilty because we are sinners. Perhaps we haven’t fulfilled the duty of God. Perhaps we have let Him, ourselves and others down. But JESUS is our place of refuge, who takes away our sin, who grants forgiveness and cleansing. Every one of us today can look straight ahead at the accuser of our life whoever that may be. We can look straight ahead when the enemy of our soul tells us to look away.
Jesus has made it possible to look straight ahead. So lift up your head today and look straight ahead and take on the challenges set before you.

Piggy in the middle!

Piggy in the middle!

Acts 22:30 “The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and set him before them.”

Have you ever found yourself in the middle?

One of my favourite games as a child was ‘piggy in the middle’ where 2 children pass the ball to each other and a 3rd child in the middle tries to intercept it.

In the UK we use this phrase ‘piggy in the middle’ when we unwillingly involved in a dispute between two people or groups.

Though I shall cloak this with disguise recently I found myself piggy in the middle, but not just with 2 people but with 3. Person 1 came to me with a concern about Person 2; Person 2 came to me with a concern about Person 1; Persons 1 and 2 came to me with a concern about Person 3 and yes you get the idea … Person 3 came to me with a concern about Person 1 and 2!

I do not have any time to indulge in this game of piggy in the middle anymore. I find it really annoying that I am distracted from what I am doing. So this is what I did:

I got Persons 1, 2 and 3 together. They had no idea that each person had concerns about one another, only the pig in the middle knew that! I thanked them for what they were doing and encouraged them to keep going. Taking into account their concerns I explained some details that they didn’t know about the situations they were concerned about, without exposing that they had individually spoken against one another. I then envisioned them again to all that is ahead. Then I asked if anyone had any concerns about anything. (This pig was coming out of the middle!). Of course they said no and everyone left feeling better.

If you are stuck between people then you need to get free as soon as you can.

The commander was stuck in the middle of a very public dispute, the Jews wanting the death penalty and Paul wanting to defend himself and actually win the crowd over. What is the exact truth? What is the real complaint? What has exactly happened? You can spend your entire life wondering or you can get everyone in the room.

I say deal with it. Don’t play piggy in the middle.

IMMEDIATELY

IMMEDIATELY

Acts 22:29 “Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realised that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.”

Again Luke uses the word ‘immediately’ which he has used on over 10 other occasions in his book. Though we have to be balanced and realise that life doesn’t always go the way we want it to, I still believe that God can do exceedingly abundantly above all things and do them immediately.

I believe healing can be immediate:

  • Acts 9:18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised,
  • Acts 9:34 ‘Aeneas,’ Peter said to him, ‘Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.’ ImmediatelyAeneas got up.

 

I believe judgment can be immediate:

 

  • Acts 12:23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
  • Acts 13:11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.’ Immediatelymist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand.

 

I believe there are times we should act immediately:

 

  • Acts 10:33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.’
  • Acts 16:33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediatelyhe and all his household were baptised.
  • Acts 17:14 The believers immediatelysent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea.

 

I believe there are times when God commands us to act immediately:

 

  • Acts 22:18 and saw the Lord speaking to me. “Quick!” he said. “Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.”

 

I believe those who are against us can react with immediacy:

 

  • 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 immediatelythe gates were shut.

 

 

I believe that as immediate as those against us can be then they can also change their actions immediately.

 

  • Acts 22:29 Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realised that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.

 

Often we cannot force the immediately and we spend long seasons in the gradual, but it doesn’t stop us believing that today could be a day of immediate miracles, immediate victory, immediate advancement, immediate obedience, immediate attack but also immediate turnaround!

We do serve a God of the immediate!!

 

Not by bribe, but by birth.

Not by bribe, but by birth.

Acts 22:28 “Then the commander said, ‘I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.’ ‘But I was born a citizen,’ Paul replied.”

Roman citizenship could not be purchased openly for anyone so long as they had the money. So how did the commander purchase his? Presumably by paying a bribe and an expensive one too was how he became a citizen.

The story of Paul’s family is speculative and mostly a mystery. But Paul says he was born a Roman citizen. How a Jewish family had become Roman citizens would be a good read if it was possible. Nevertheless that story meant that Paul was privileged.

Here we have two men side by side, each a Roman citizen:

  • One man through manipulation, deceit and dishonest gain.
  • One man through the life story of his father.

I recall a man who attended my church telling me how he rose to the high levels of his career through lying on his cv. That confession answered so many more questions I had about his character.

Better to be at a low level in your career than obtaining it by deception.

Better to not have any privileges than to have gained them through persuasion.

You cannot buy your birth. You cannot manipulate what colour, culture or even creed you will be born into. It is the work of your parentage.

Remember you are a citizen of heaven, you gained this not by bribe but by birth, it was given to you, a grace gift, all because your Father in heaven loves you.

Our lifestyle should replicate such grace. There should be no bribery, trying to get what we don’t have, this is not our identity or heritage. We are people of birth, new birth, we know who we are and who we belong to. We also know that our birth was free but it cost far more than any bribe. It cost Jesus his life.