The Act of FINISH (Acts 28)

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7

Well, this is it.  I made it through the book of Acts in my preaching series and it only seems fitting for the final chapter/message to be “The Act of FINISH”.  I have to say it has been a joy to preach through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continued to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter had the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

In Acts 28, Luke concludes his account of the foundations of the church.  Paul is on his way to Rome, as a prisoner, when the storms overtake and destroy the ship he is on and everyone onboard takes refuge on an island.  After interacting with the people of the island for some time, the weather finally breaks and a ship headed to Rome is found so that the journey continues.  Finally in Rome, Paul has opportunity to address the Jewish leaders there and to continue to preach and teach the gospel even while living under guard in a house-arrest situation.  There is much to learn from this chapter, and from Paul, as we consider how we live out the Act of FINISH in our life. 

  • Faith:  If we plan to accomplish the Act of FINISH well, we must begin the entire process in Faith!  It is our Faith that allows us to believe and trust God even when we don’t understand.  As Paul faced persecution, false accusations, imprisonment, and shipwreck, his faith never seems to waver.  In good times and bad, our faith in God must constantly remind us that God both knows what He’s doing and His love for you and I and the people around us never fails.  Our faith provides the foundation for God to work in and through us in ways that are “immeasurably more than we can think or imagine.”  As God moves you along in your journey with Him toward the Act of FINISH, be sure that Faith keeps you trusting that God can, and will, accomplish His work in you. 
  • Invitation:  As we consider how we live the Act of FINISH, it is important to pay attention to the Invitations that we both give and receive.  How we respond to invitations, and who we extend them to, can have eternal consequences in the lives of people around us.  In Acts 28, Paul and those that had been on the ship with him were invited to spend time with the unknown islanders and then invited by the chief official of the island to spend time in his home.  How do you and I respond to invitations from strangers to have some type of involvement in their life?  Many of us have become so skeptical that we have a difficult time seeing the hand of God moving in the lives of people to cause them to actually invite us into where they live.  The other side of the equation is who we invite to spend time with us.  Once Paul made it to Rome, it was he who invited the Jewish leaders to meet with him!  How often do you think of inviting your enemies —  your chief accusers — to hear your story and know why you follow Jesus?  Most of the time we have come to believe that if I a person hasn’t yet accepted Jesus then they probably don’t want to and don’t deserve our time.  Refusing to invite people into your life for the purpose of seeing God at work will certainly stifle any real efforts to FINISH as God would want you to.  We are able to grow in the FINISH when we are willing to accept and extend invitations to those we would normally ignore or even those who we view as our enemies.
  • Notice: The Act of FINISH calls us to live a life that is worth Noticing!  The caution that must be issued with this is that we want people to Notice Jesus and not us as they watch Him work through us.  As Paul arrives on the island, the people notice that he is bit by a viper yet doesn’t die.  That gets their attention right away.  Later, they notice that the power of God working through him can bring healing to those who are in need.  Then as he arrives in Rome, the Jewish leaders notice that he is a consistent follower of Jesus and they want to know from a first-hand source about this “sect” that they have heard much negative talk about.  Do the people around you each day even notice that you are a follower of Jesus?  Jesus tells us to live in such a way that people see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.    As we live life looking toward the Act of FINISH, we must live in such a way that we are so transparent that the only thing others Notice in us is Jesus.
  • Insight:  One advantage of the Act of FINISH is that the longer we live, and the more we listen to God, the more Insight we should have in matters that are most important.  As we approached chapter 28, Paul was able to share the great insight he had received from God on how everyone on board the ship could be saved.  Our time with God through His Word, His Spirit, and prayer gives us insight on how everyone in life could be saved!  The insight that God gives us also helps us to see beyond the surface and into the genuine needs that the people around us have.  The insight we need is available, the question really comes in two parts; one, are we spending time with God to better see people as He sees them, and two, what are we doing with the insight God gives us?  As we grow in the Act of FINISH, it is important to not only seek Insight from God, but to use it for His glory and purpose.
  • Sharing:  Our life only accomplishes what it is meant to in the Act of FINISH if we are deliberately and consistently involved in Sharing.  Paul was constantly involved in sharing not only his faith and belief in Jesus, but pretty much anything he had.  Paul shares his knowledge, his ability, his resources whether great or small.  As I think about the Act of FINISH and Sharing, I can’t help but think about Matthew 25 where Jesus tells a story about a multitude of people who are divided into two groups — one group is welcomed into the King’s presence and the other is sent away into utter darkness.  What was the difference between the two groups?  Not how much they knew, not how much scripture they had memorized, not how often they had attended any religious gathering, not even how many religious acts they had done!  No, the difference is in how much they shared with the King!  While neither side seemed to think they had shared, or not shared, with the King, Jesus makes it clear that it is in what we share (or don’t share) with “the least of these” that we share with Him.  I believe we ought to use caution and the common sense that God gives us, but are we so afraid of being taken advantage of that we simply fail to share?  Have we become so greedy that we can’t bring ourself to give anything to a person in real need?  Are we so fearful of how people might react that we refuse to share the good news of Jesus?  The Act of FINISH that hears the Master say, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into your master’s happiness.” is the Act of FINISH that has learned how to Share.
  • Honor:  The Act of FINISH wraps up with a focus on Honor.  We tend to like honor when it is directed our way but we are a little more selective when it comes to actually showing or giving honor to someone else.  Paul knew how to both receive and give honor.  As Paul allowed God to work through him on the island, the people who were experiencing God’s healing in their lives were showing honor to Paul and his companions “in many ways”.  Paul had learned to receive honor with humility and grace.  He also knew how to give honor to those around him.  Even his inviting the Jewish leaders to hear him out was a way of honoring a group of people who his experience may have said didn’t deserve much honor.  As God does a great and might work in and through us, He also calls us to accept proper honor with the same humility and grace that Paul showed.  On the other hand, God also calls us to give honor to people that we may not think deserve that from us.  We dishonor people who are made in the image of God when we refuse to have a conversation with them for whatever reason we make up.  The Act of FINISH gains its real power from our willingness to humbly receive and give honor when honor is due.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of FINISH?  As you move from where you are to where God wants you to be, do you constantly walk by Faith?  Are you open to recognizing, and responding to, the Invitations that are both extended and received by you for the purpose of investing in the life of another?  Are you living your life in such a way that people Notice your good deeds and glorify God?  Are you spending regular time with God to gain His Insight into the way He would have you go?  Do you make the most of every opportunity to Share everything God has given you — including your possessions and your relationship with Jesus?  Are you growing in the practice of giving and receiving Honor with humility and grace?  I pray that your involvement in the Act of FINISH will boldly take you from where you are to where God wants you to be as you show, and tell, the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

The Act of SAIL (Acts 27)

“When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment.
Acts 27:1

As we near the end of the book, I have to say it has been a joy to preach through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

Paul continues his journey toward Rome in Acts 27 as the decision is made that it is time to set sail.  Paul knew that he had a mission to complete.  He had been called by God to preach the gospel to the Gentiles and to speak about Jesus before kings and authorities so Rome was the place to go to speak before the highest human authority of the day.  While we may not board a ship, many times in our life God uses this same Act of SAIL to move us from where we are to where He wants us to be. 

  • Storms:  As we consider the Act of SAIL, probably the best place to start is with a reminder that there will be Storms!  For some reason, even when we know better, we begin to believe that the journey from where we are to where God wants us to be ought to be smooth sailing.  Paul had warned of storms to come but it seems as if everyone on board were caught off-guard and unprepared when the storm did arrive.  Jesus warns us that in this world we will have trouble but to take heart for he has overcome the world.  We read that, and we know that, yet when trouble does come we are often quickly overwhelmed and surprised.  It is as if we expect, and even demand, that walking the path Jesus calls us to has to be easy or He wouldn’t have led us in that direction.  Instead of seeking Him in the midst of the storm we tend to give up and assume that we must have been sailing in the wrong direction.  Sometimes that is true . . . remember Jonah? . . . but the only way we know that is if we turn to Jesus in the midst of the storm and see where we’ve been and where He wants us to be.  As God moves you along in your journey with Him through the Act of SAIL, be sure that Storms will come but also that He will be with you in them. 
  • Advice:  The Act of SAIL also involves us in the act of Advice — both giving and receiving.  The dictionary defines advice as being “one person’s opinion of what another person ought to do.”  At first read, you may wonder what does it matter what someone else thinks I ought to do.  God tells us often, especially in the book of Proverbs, that good advice is necessary for great success.  Yes, we must weigh the advice and consider if it is godly advice or ungodly advice but too often we dismiss it more because of the source than because of the content.  As Paul set out on this journey, he gave advice to the captain of the ship that continuing to sail beyond a certain time of year would not be wise.  We also read that this advice was not taken and I can think of a several reasons why!  Paul was a prisoner trying to give advice to a ship captain.  Paul’s background was that of a religious leader — pharisee turned preacher — what did he know about sailing on the open sea?  And then you have the captain himself who seems to be pretty confident at the beginning that he knows what he’s doing and doesn’t really need any advice.  Change the names and the occupations and do you see yourself in those statements?  How often do you say or hear, “I know what I’m doing!”, “What do they know?”, “Who do they think they are?”, and the statements could go on of the ways we say, “I don’t need or want your advice!”.  We are able to grow in the Act of SAIL when we are willing to give and receive Advice that we can filter through our time with God.
  • Instruction:  While at first it may seem similar to advice, the Act of SAIL requires that we can take, and give, Instruction.  The dictionary defines instruction as “a spoken or written statement of what must be done.”  Did you notice the difference?  Opinion versus what must be done.  Are we guilty at times of treating God’s Word as advice rather than instruction?  Even though Paul’s advice was not taken by the ship’s captain, there comes a time in the journey when Paul moves from giving advice to giving instruction.  As the storm presses in, Paul shares instructions he received from God.  He even points out the difference, noting that they had not taken his advice but now he had instructions from God that must be followed in order for the lives of everyone on board to be saved.    As we move from where we are to where God wants us to be in the Act of SAIL, it is critical that we realize that God’s instruction is not optional but is given that we, and others, would know what we must do to be saved.
  • Listening:  The key to moving through the Act of SAIL to where God wants us to be centers around our Listening!  It was Paul’s constant listening to God that put him on the path to Rome to begin with.  It was also his connection with God that would lead others to listen to the words he would share about how to be saved.  We must begin with listening in order to hear clearly the direction God is calling us to.  As we move toward where God wants us to be, it is our listening to Him that carries us through the storms that are sure to come.  It is our listening to God that helps us to sort through the advice we give and receive so that we can distinguish between good and evil.  It is only through listening to God’s Word that we know the instructions necessary that we, and others, might be saved.  The Act of SAIL gains its real power from our willingness and consistency in Listening.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of SAIL?  As you move from where you are to where God wants you to be, do you anticipate the Storms that you will face?  Do you surround yourself with people who will give good and godly Advice?  Are you willing to accept Instruction from God’s Word on the things you must do?  Will you actively be engaged in the process of Listening as you proceed down the path God is leading you on?  I pray that your involvement in the Act of SAIL will boldly take you from where you are to where God wants you to be as you show, and tell, the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

The Act of SPEAK (Acts 26)

“Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You have permission to speak for yourself.'”
Acts 26:1

As we near the end of the book, I have to say it has been a joy to preach through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

Paul continues his journey toward Rome in Acts 26 as he is brought before King Agrippa to be questioned regarding charges against him to be presented to Caesar.  Paul has appealed to Caesar but Festus and Agrippa have no idea what crime to tell Caesar that Paul has been charged with.  In an attempt to find answers, Paul is given the opportunity to speak.  As we continue to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within us, there are some lessons we need to learn regarding the Act of SPEAK. 

  • Stop:  The Act of SPEAK begins with what may seem like an unlikely place, the act of Stop!  Most of the time we are so quick to speak that we fail to stop and listen for what God wants said.  Paul had opportunity to speak about Jesus because he had first stopped and realized Jesus was truly Lord.  If we are going to give an answer for the hope that is within us, we must first stop and set apart Christ as Lord in our life.  God says that it is out of the overflow of our heart that our mouth speaks so it is imperative that we stop and fill our heart with the word of God before we open our mouth to speak.  .  When we are engaged in the Act of SPEAK, we must make sure we first Stop and listen for God’s direction and leading in what we say. 
  • Permission:  The Act of SPEAK also requires us to wait for Permission.  Paul had been a prisoner under Roman guard for at least two years before he was brought before King Agrippa and given permission to speak!  This is another important part of why we must stop before we speak — we need permission to speak into a person’s life.  When we speak truth into a person’s life without earning permission, the seed of truth often falls on a very hard heart.  It is through time and relationship that we soften the ground of a person’s heart and gain permission to speak so truth has an opportunity to grow when it is spoken.  James tells us that everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.  When we speak without permission, we are more likely to speak out of anger and reaction with no listening taking place at all.  We are able to grow in the Act of SPEAK when we invest time and love to gain permission before we speak.
  • Examples:  When you have stopped and gained permission, the Act of SPEAK requires that you share Examples.  When God uses you to speak His truth into a person’s life, He has prepared you for that purpose with examples that show His love.  As Paul is addressing the accusations against him, he begins by sharing his story and the example of how he went from being a pursuer of God to a follower of Jesus.  He even uses his life example of being a persecutor of Christians to explain his story.  God knows our history, both good and bad, and He knows how to use your example to help others see His goodness.  Far too often we try to hide parts of our example because it embarrasses us and we would just as soon people only knew the whitewashed version of who we are.  People need to know how God has transformed your life so they will believe the transforming power of God can change their life.  When it comes to living out the Act of SPEAK, sharing our example as God leads us to helps others to see how God can love and forgive them.
  • Admit:  The Act of SPEAK also requires that we Admit who we really are and what God has done in our life.  Paul reaches the point in sharing his example that he must admit the truth behind the accusations against him — that he believes in the resurrection of the dead through the power of Jesus.  Sometimes we are so afraid of what people might think that we given the opportunity to speak about our belief in Jesus, we fail to admit that what is seen is His power working through us.  When people comment or ask about our hope, our joy, our faith, our confidence, our whatever — do we admit it comes from Jesus or do we brush it off with some casual answer?  We must be careful to not claim credit for what God has done, and for what only God could do, in our life.  The Act of SPEAK gains its power from your willingness to admit that it is only Jesus that has given you any real hope.
  • Kindness:  The Act of SPEAK is only effective when done from a heart of Kindness.  It is hard for me to imagine Paul being given the opportunity to speak in his own defense after years in custody and his primary concern is not for his release, but for the salvation of his hearers.  When we speak with kindness, we speak out of concern for the other person not with our interest in mind.  We must constantly ask God to purify our motives when we have the opportunity to speak so that we would always look out for the interests of others above our own.  When our primary motivation in speaking to a person about Jesus is for our benefit or to make our life easier, then we are speaking out of selfishness and not kindness.  When living the Act of SPEAK, it is important to constantly evaluate our heart and motives so that genuine Kindness prevails.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of SPEAK?  Do you Stop and take the time to listen to God before you speak?  Do you invest time and love to earn Permission to speak God’s truth to a person?  Do you share the real Examples of where you’ve been and what God has done in your life?  Do you willingly Admit that Jesus is at the heart of every good thing you have or do?  Do you speak with Kindness to everyone as you look out for their interests above your own?  I pray that your involvement in the Act of SPEAK will boldly show, and tell, the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

The Act of APPEAL (Acts 25)

“If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”
Acts 25:11

As we near the end of the book, I have to say it has been a joy to preach through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

Paul continues his journey toward Rome in Acts 25 as he appeals to Caesar regarding the charges the Jewish leaders continue to bring against  him.  I think there are at least two reasons that Paul does this — one, it protects his life from the attempts on it by the Jewish leaders and two, it allows him to continue the mission God had revealed to him regarding being a witness to the Gentiles and to those in authority.  As we continue to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within us, there are some lessons we need to learn regarding the Act of APPEAL. 

  • Accept:  For the Act of APPEAL to function well, it is important that both sides of the appeal Accept — no matter how unlikely it may seem to them — that they may be wrong!  Paul was very clear in his act of appeal that he was willing to accept even the death penalty if he was wrong about his innocence.  Many times we make no progress in our relationships with one another even when an appeal is made because we refuse to accept any responsibility.  .  When we are engaged in the Act of APPEAL, we must make sure we are willing to Accept the outcome that is from God. 
  • Present:  The Act of APPEAL also requires us to Present our case.  Many times this is the part that we like — we get to “tell it like it is”.  The difficulty is wrapped around the need for the appeal to be presented in a balanced and fair way.  When before the Roman officials, Paul was careful to not only present his appeal from his perspective but to also point out the specific areas of disagreement with his accusers.  We generally like to present all of the good from our side of an appeal but we’re not too likely to willingly present a full picture of what is going on.  We can usually present our case when it comes to our rights and desires but we often fall short in presenting when it comes to the greatest appeal of all — the appeal for people to come to salvation through Jesus!  It is important that we practice and become good at presenting the case for Christ as we appeal to people everywhere to be saved.  We are able to grow in the Act of APPEAL when we practice our ability to Present the reason for the hope that is within us.
  • Ponder:  One of the huge roadblocks in the Act of APPEAL is the failure to Ponder both what we present and the response that is given.  It seems clear that Paul had given great thought to his appeal.  There was a reason behind that was bigger than what most would see as the intended outcome.  One of the big problems with this element of appeal is that it takes time.  We’re too busy.  We already know everything so why delay the inevitable?  I’m sure you have heard, or used, those or one of many other excuses for not taking the time to think.  Many times it is this act of ponder that helps us to see things more clearly, or even to see the perspective that someone else has that we hadn’t thought of.  When it comes to living out the Act of APPEAL, we would do well to stop and Ponder the bigger picture — to try to see things more clearly from God’s perspective.
  • Examine:  As we consider the Act of APPEAL, the act of ponder ought to lead us down a path where we Examine what God says.  Too often we take the easy route and make, or hear, an appeal based on human wisdom and reasoning rather than on what God says.  Paul was always diligent in  his defense of the gospel to examine the word of God and connect his appeal to what God had said.  Often our appeals with one another go nowhere because our minds are made up according to what we like, know, and believe rather than on the foundation of God’s Word.  When we spend time examining God’s Word, we are better prepared to give an effective answer for the hope that is within us.  The Act of APPEAL will only be as strong as the effort you put into the act of Examine as you discover what God says.
  • Acknowledge:  The Act of APPEAL requires that you Acknowledge the authority of someone else.  Sometimes it is a positional authority and sometimes it is a relational authority.  Either way, an appeal is made because you don’t have the authority to command a change.  Paul made an appeal to Caesar because he was not in a position to make demands of him.  He also would appeal to fellow believers, even when reminding them that he had authority as an apostle, because he viewed them as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Many times we don’t appeal to one another to make changes we would like to see because we think we can demand those changes.  We need to get rid of our control mindset and constantly acknowledge that God is the authority we all must answer to.  When living the Act of APPEAL, it is important to Acknowledge that God is the final authority, not you.
  • Listen:  Most times the Act of APPEAL that is made by us, or to us, breaks down because one or both parties are not willing to Listen.  Paul’s appeal to Caesar worked because he had listened to his accusers and to the Roman officials.  More importantly, it worked because he had listened to God.  Listening is the key that starts each of the elements of APPEAL that we’ve already looked at.  When Peter tells us to always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us, it is the listening that allows us to do so with gentleness and respect!  Our appeals to one another within the church family often fail because we are not willing to actually listen to one another.  It is no wonder we are often ineffective in our appeal to the people around us to be saved, if in fact we are making that appeal, because we are likely not listening to them either!  Not only do we not listen well to one another, we would much rather give our opinion that listen to God for what He has already said about the issues we face.  An effective Act of APPEAL requires that we take the time to really Listen to each other and to God.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of APPEAL?  Do you Accept that you could actually be wrong?  Do you understand the hope that is in you well enough to Present it accurately to others?  Do you spend time with God specifically to Ponder an issue or circumstance?  Does your pondering lead you to Examine the scripture to see what God has said?  Do you regularly Acknowledge that you are not the final authority in your life or in the lives of others?  Are you committed to take the time and effort necessary to Listen to one another as you listen to God?  I pray that your involvement in the Act of APPEAL will boldly show, and tell, the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

The Act of REPLY (Acts 24)

“When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense.”
Acts 24:10

As we near the end of the book, I have to say it has been a joy to preach through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

As we arrive in Acts 24 in our sermon series we continue with a familiar scene as Paul will be making a defense of the gospel and his belief in Jesus as the Way!  Paul knows through the Spirit and through the prophets that he is not only heading to Rome but that trouble and hardship await him — but more importantly, he knows he has been appointed to speak of Jesus to kings and authorities so he continues the journey with boldness.  Out of all the lessons we will learn from Paul, one of the most important is about giving an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus.  With that in mind, let’s look at the Act of REPLY from Acts 24.

  • Respect:  When given the opportunity to give an answer for the hope that we have, our REPLY must be centered in Respect if we want any chance of being listened to.  When brought before the Roman governor, Felix, Paul presents his defense with respect.  His answer shows respect not only to the person he is giving a reply to, but to his accusers as well.  When Paul is brought before Felix, his accusers do their best to present themselves as friends of Rome and Paul as the enemy.  Too often, our natural reaction when falsely accused of something is to become defensive and even strike back.  We often let our emotions get the best of us and fail to reply with respect and then wonder why our answer is rarely listened to.  The example of Paul teaches us to give truthful answers but to do so with gentleness and respect.  When we are engaged in the Act of REPLY, we must make sure our answer is given with Respect for everyone involved. 
  • Explain: As important as respect is, the Act of REPLY requires us to Explain the hope that is within us!  When faced with accusations and given the opportunity to reply, Paul answers with an honest explanation of what he has been doing and what he believes.  Too often, we lack the confidence to explain because we’ve not given serious thought to what and why we believe.  When asked about our hope, we brush off a real explanation with generalizations and “meatless” answers.  What has God done in your life?  How has your relationship with Jesus given you strength and hope for each day?  What chains in your life have been broken by the power of Jesus?  The answers to these and many other questions can give you the framework to more fully explain your relationship with Jesus to the people around you.  We are able to grow in the Act of REPLY when we are prepared to Explain the hope that is within us.
  • Personal:  It is one thing to tell stories that we have read or heard, but our Act of REPLY requires that our answer is Personal!  As Paul gives his reply to Felix, he does so with a personal touch.  He tells not only of his understanding of the Law  and Prophets, but also of his personal response to it.  For Paul, scripture is not just a story to be read or told, it is a way of life to be shared.  Every Christian has a personal story of how God has impacted their life through their relationship with Jesus.  It is good to share the story of God, but our reply gains traction when that story is a personal reflection of God’s work in our life.  When it comes to living out the Act of REPLY, we would do well to gain a clear understanding of how God has been involved in our life in a very Personal way.
  • Listen:  One of the keys to an effective REPLY is the ability and willingness to Listen!  Paul is able to tailor his reply because he has taken the time to listen to the accusations against him.  Too often, we spend so much time and energy working on a good reply that we fail to take the time to actually listen to what the question is.  We think we give an irrefutable reply, yet when it doesn’t match the real question we are left wondering where we went wrong.  When we spend time with people, we must listen with our ears but also with our eyes and with the Spirit God has put within us.  It is when we truly listen that we come to understand in each situation how best to give an answer for the hope that we have.  The Act of REPLY will always be weak and ineffective until we truly learn to Listen.
  • Yield:  One of the problems we have with the Act of REPLY is that we must Yield the results to God.  It is easy to think our answer is so brilliant and right on target that everyone would accept the message with gladness.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.  Every person has to choose what to do with the reply you give — to either accept it or reject it.  Paul seems to do everything right in his reply to Felix and even appears to get his attention and make him curious about The Way Paul pursues God.  Yet the short-term result is that Paul continues to be held by the Roman authorities and remains in prison for the remaining two years of Felix’s rule.  Paul had learned to yield the results to God because he knew that God’s desire for people to turn to Him was even greater than Paul’s desire that they would do so.  When living the Act of REPLY, it is important to Yield the results to God and remember that He desires all people to come to repentance and turn to Him.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of REPLY?  Do you approach everyone with Respect?  Do you understand the hope that is in you well enough to Explain it to others?  Are you comfortable enough with the name of Jesus and His work in your life that you can make your answer Personal?  Will you put the necessary effort into really Listening before you reply?  Are you willing to Yield all outcomes and results to God?  I pray that your involvement in the Act of REPLY will boldly show, and tell, the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

The Act of COURAGE (Acts 23)

“The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome’.”
Acts 23:11

It is a joy to return to preaching through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

As we arrive in Acts 23 in our sermon series we find Paul continuing to have opportunity to give a defense of the gospel of Jesus.  Even when facing opposition, Paul both speaks with courage and is reminded by God to take courage as there is work yet to be done.  As we seek a greater obedience to living the word of God, we must also be able to hear God’s word tell us, “Take COURAGE!  You still have work to do.”!

  • Conscience:  Paul is able to speak with courage because his conscience doesn’t fill him with fear.  He announces boldly to his accusers that he has a clear conscience when it comes to his duty to God.  Many times, we dwell on our failures, mistakes, and sin to the point that our conscience fills us with so much fear that we fail to live and speak with courage.  Paul was not perfect, he even calls himself the worst of all sinners, but he understood the freedom of living in God’s grace and forgiveness.  When our heart is aligned with a pursuit of God and our will is being molded and shaped to be more like His will, we will have a conscience that propels us forward with courage instead of holding us back in fear.  When we are engaged in the Act of COURAGE, we must make sure our Conscience is clear before God so it is our ally and not our enemy. 
  • Opposition: Even when we deal appropriately with our conscience, Opposition will often stand in the way of our having real COURAGE.  Sometimes we overestimate the opposition, sometimes we underestimate it, and at times we even see it accurately.  The problem we face usually doesn’t have so much to do with the opposition as it does with our view of the One giving us courage.  God gives us courage to face opposition by reminding us that He is always with us — that He will never leave us or forsake us.  It is in the midst of opposition that we have opportunity to learn what real courage is.  When we face Opposition, we can take courage because the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world.
  • Understanding:  We can gain COURAGE through Understanding as long as we are very careful not to lean on our own understanding.  Paul uses his understanding of the crowd in Acts 23 to present the gospel of Jesus in a way that caused them to question each other for a time rather than focus on opposing him.  He also understood where the real battle was and that the real enemy was trying to fill him with fear to distract him from the work God had created for him to do.  It is our understanding of the spiritual nature of the true battle we are in that should lead us to courage as we realize that the enemy has already been defeated.  When we make the effort to understand the person our opposition seems to come from, we take a step forward in disarming fear so that courage can be found.  When it comes to living out the Act of COURAGE, we would do well to gain understanding of our opposition and, more importantly, a greater understanding of our source of courage.
  • Risk:  COURAGE is rarely visible unless there is some form of Risk present.  It is in the face of great risk that we find out for the moment if fear or courage has the upper hand in our life.  Paul is talking to a crowd that is already very angry yet in order to remain faithful to teaching about Jesus he risks deepening the anger even further by speaking of the resurrection of the dead.  Later in the chapter when a plot is concocted to take Paul’s life, he risks everything by entrusting his very life to the work of his nephew as a messenger and in the willingness of the Roman officials to protect him.  Life is full of risks that we will never fully avoid because we can’t fully see the outcome of our actions or the actions of others.  While it may still feel like risk because we can’t see the outcome, we can never go wrong when we walk by faith in doing the things God has called us to and has prepared in advance for us to do.  The Act of COURAGE isn’t the absence of Risk, it is understanding the risks and doing the right thing regardless.
  • Accusation/Attack:  This part of living with COURAGE is simply another side, a more personal side, to the opposition that we face.  Satan is good in his role as the great accuser and seems to work constantly at removing courage far from us.  It is the Accusations and Attacks that plant seeds of doubt about the clear conscience God has given us when we live in relationship with Him.  Paul’s enemies realized that God had filled him with great courage so silencing him wasn’t enough — it simply wasn’t going to work — they would need to personally attack him and bring his life to an end.  When the attacks come, and they will, it is important that we remember, and are reminded, that God has forgiven us, accepted us, and given us an important work to do.  It is He that gives us the needed courage to press on toward our high calling.  When living the Act of COURAGE, we must recognize that the Accusations and Attacks that come our way are from someone weaker than the One who lives within us.
  • Government:  It is often hard to consider that Government should have anything to do with the Act of COURAGE — particularly in the context of having the courage to share freely about Jesus.  This part of courage may vary greatly depending on where you live but even in the very “non-Christian” government of first century Rome, Paul could grow in courage because of his rights and protections as a Roman citizen!  Paul eventually appeals to Caesar, and receives an audience with him, not for the purpose of gaining freedom but to courageously speak of Jesus.  We can learn much from the respectful way Paul would approach government authorities — even when he knew their actions toward him were wrong.  We make good use of the courage God fills us with when we use it to present Jesus to the governmental authorities around us.  When we consider the Act of COURAGE in our life, the Government that exists on earth can both give us courage, and be spoken to with courage, when we realize that the authority they possess has been given to them by God.
  • Explanation:  The purpose of our COURAGE is so we will not only be ready but that we would give an Explanation for the hope we have in Jesus.  Courage is like many things — you never really know how much you have until you try to use it.  God’s purpose in telling Paul to take courage was so he would take the boldness of his testimony about Jesus to Rome.  There are times that we work so hard to have, or grow in, courage so that we can face one fear or another but usually it is for our benefit rather than because we want to be more effective in sharing a bold explanation of our life in Jesus.  The courage God wants to give us isn’t so we can be a more fearless person, it is so we can be a more faithful witness!  As you grow in the Act of COURAGE, may your opportunities to give and Explanation for the hope of Jesus in you increase.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of COURAGE?  Do you live life with a clear Conscience before God?  Will you face Opposition with the knowledge that God’s power within you is greater than he that opposes you?  Will you seek Understanding from God’s perspective of the situations you find yourself in?  Will you recognize the Risks that you face and choose to do the right thing regardless?  Do you turn over the Accusations and Attacks that come your way to the One who has already defeated them?  Will you realize the role God has given Government so that you would know how to take the message of Jesus to your governmental leaders?  Are you ready to use the courage God gives you so that you would be ready to give an Explanation for the hope of Jesus in you to all who would ask?  I pray that your response to the Act of COURAGE will boldly show, and tell, the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

The Act of ANSWER (Acts 22)

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:15

After having the month of August off, it is a joy to return to preaching through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

As we arrive in Acts 22 in our sermon series we find Paul publicly giving his testimony as a result of being arrested for being at the center of a riot.  Paul seemed to understand what Peter would write about being ready to give an answer — even in times where it might seem safer to just blend in and not speak up.  As we seek a greater obedience to living the word of God, we must also be ready to give an ANSWER.

  • Acknowledge:  As we prepare to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us, it is important that we acknowledge we started at the same place as the person who needs to meet the hope we have.  Paul begins his defense — his answer — in chapter 22 by acknowledging that he not only understands their concerns but for much of his life he was right there with them leading people in the very actions they were involved with.  Sometimes as Christians our answer falls on deaf ears, at least in part, because we don’t acknowledge we were once just as lost as they were.  We want to forget that part of our life.  We want to believe we have always been in a right relationship with God — but we haven’t been!  Our acknowledgement is a necessary part of our answer so that people can see there is hope for them to experience the change that Jesus offers.  When we are engaged in the Act of ANSWER, our Acknowledgement of where we’ve been can help others see they are not beyond the reach of God’s grace. 
  • Notice: For our answer to be as effective as possible, it is important that we actually notice who we are talking to!  Paul appears to do this as he chooses to address the crowd in Aramaic.  As you read the text, it is obvious that using this language gets the crowd’s attention.  Remember, this wasn’t a friendly crowd wanting to hear what the traveling preacher was saying — it was an angry mob already in turmoil over what Paul had been teaching.  If we are going to excel at giving an answer with gentleness and respect, it is imperative that we notice everything we can about who we’re talking to!  Too often we put our foot in our mouth because we’ve not paid attention to the details.  So, our mouth opens and out comes something offensive, making whatever truth we may have shared to fall on deaf ears.  When we Notice as much as possible about the people around us, God will use those details to guide our words in the Act of ANSWER.
  • Speak:  While this part of our answer should be obvious, it is often the most difficult because it represents the point of no return.  Paul writes to the Romans that faith comes by hearing the word of God and that hearing the word of God requires that someone speaks it.  Paul would not only speak as part of his answer about his faith, he would speak as much as possible in a language that his audience would understand.  A life lived fully in the hope Jesus offers will often get people’s attention but what will we do with it?  The speaking we do about our faith in Jesus must come from both our acknowledgement of where we started and from the things we notice about those we speak to.  When it comes to living out the Act of ANSWER, there does come a point where we must Speak about the incredible hope that we have in Jesus.
  • Willing:  To know these first three elements of the Act of ANSWER is good, but doing it typically requires that we ask the question of ourself, “Am I willing?”.  Even when we know the importance of the hope that we have, many times we are intimidated into not being willing to share it.  Paul had been told he would suffer much for sharing about Jesus yet he was willing to keep giving an answer because he knew it was the only way others would know about an everlasting hope.  Instead of letting fear drive our silence, we must be willing to step up and speak up every time God gives us an opportunity to share about our relationship with Him.  Are there people we are not willing to speak to because we think they’re unreachable or undeserving?  According to God, knowing the good we ought to do and not be willing to do it is sin.  The Act of ANSWER will never by attempted by us until we are Willing to be obedient to God in all things and make the most of every opportunity He gives us.
  • Expose:  There is a perceived downside to the Act of ANSWER and that is that it has a tendency to Expose both us and those we give the answer to.  When our answer is filled with the honesty and integrity that it requires, it reveals that we started at the same place as those hearing our answer — we were a sinner in need of God’s grace.  Paul’s answer to the crowd exposed to them that even in his strongest held beliefs before meeting Jesus, he was wrong.  God uses that same answer to also expose the need in the lives of those listening.  It appears that Paul was being listened to, and perhaps even had agreement from among the crowd, until his answer exposed a great sin of prejudice.  Everything was good until Paul stated that God had sent him to the Gentiles.  That was more than the crowd could stand!  Their racial prejudice was so ingrained that they would seek to rid the earth of Paul rather than accept that God desired all people to be saved.  Our answer, or lack of one, can expose just how much, or little, we believe that Jesus is the only way to God.  Who we tell, or don’t tell, can expose our layers of prejudice and lack of faith in God’s power to change anyone who would turn to  Him.  Our speaking the truth in love will many times expose the hatred, hurt, and rejection in the lives of those listening.  The problem isn’t the exposure, it is what do we do with it.  God’s call is for His light to expose, and dispel, the darkness so that mankind would no longer live and walk in it.  When done effectively, our Act of ANSWER gives out the light of Jesus so that the deeds of darkness are Exposed.
  • Respectful Rights:  As we give an ANSWER for the hope that lies within us, we do so recognizing that we have Rights that must be used with Respect.  Paul was not afraid to speak up for his rights in a respectful way in order to have even greater opportunity to speak about his faith in Jesus.  When about to be flogged in an attempt to get the truth out of him, Paul simply asks, as a Roman citizen, if doing so is right.  While some of our rights vary based on the country we reside in and the government we live under, God tells us that our relationship with Him through Jesus gives us the right to be called children of God.  Even when our rights seem to be non-existent or eroding away, do we use what we have to increase our opportunity to speak about our hope in Jesus?  When exercising our rights with respect will lead to hardship for us, are we willing to still speak up about Jesus?  Sometimes it is not so much that we have our rights taken away from us as Christians as that we have given up our rights as Christians because they create a hardship for us.  The opportunities we have in the Act of ANSWER often increase when we know the Rights given us by both God and our earthly authorities and we exercise these Rights with Respect.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of ANSWER?  Do you Acknowledge that you started at the same place in regard to God as those that you are giving your answer to are in?  Will you take the time to Notice everything you can about those to whom you will express the answer you have for your hope?  Can you Speak up and put your answer into words that others can understand?  Are you Willing to make the most of every opportunity?  Do you allow the light of Jesus Expose the truth about Him, about you, and about those you share with?  Will you be Respectful when you use your Rights to gain greater opportunity to share about your relationship with Jesus?  I pray that your response to the Act of ANSWER will boldly show, and tell, the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!