The Act of REASON (Acts 17)

It is 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 17 in our sermon series we find Paul doing typical Paul stuff — talking about Jesus until people run him out of town.  As he would go from region to region and city to city, even into the heart of Athens, Paul’s practice of teaching about Jesus seems to center on this Act of REASON!  Let’s look at some lessons we can learn from the example of Paul’s practice of reasoning with the people he would meet.

  • Respect:  We live in a time when it appears that people really believe the loudest voice wins every discussion.  I’ve seen people treated very poorly because others were certain everyone should agree with them if they just talked loud enough, forcefully enough, and long enough.  Unfortunately, there are times when our attempts to share about our faith come across that way.  Peter tells us that we do need to be ready to give an answer for the hope we have — but we must do so with gentleness and respect.  When Paul would reason with people about the truth of Jesus he did so with respect.  He kept at it as long as he could, teaching in both the synagogues and marketplaces as people would listen.  When he arrives in Athens, he finds a way to encourage them for their efforts while pointing out what was missing in their efforts to worship.  When God calls you to grow in the Act of REASON, recognize that God’s desire is that your reasoning with people would be done with the act of Respect.
  • Examine:  How often have you heard some version of the statement, “My God isn’t like that or wouldn’t do that.”?  One of the difficulties we have in fully engaging in this “act of reason” as we share about Jesus is that many have exchanged “giving reason for the hope that is within them” for a watered down version of “what do you think is reasonable”!  If we are going to be effective in reasoning with people in a meaningful way, we must take seriously the background work — the act of Examine.  Instead of accepting, and teaching, that which sounds reasonable, what does God’s Word say?  The Bereans are described as being of “more noble character” not only because they accepted the message but because they examined scripture to see if what Paul was teaching was true.  I believe our Christian message is often missing its power because we have accepted, and teach, that which sounds reasonable instead of examining the scriptures to see if it is really truth.  We preach, teach, and live an American gospel and not necessarily a Jesus gospel.  One example:  we have come to believe as an American society that we have certain rights from God that are an integral part of who we are as people — we’ve been endowed by our creator with the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  I suppose if you examine scripture for God’s definition of each of those terms you could make an argument for the validity of those “inalienable rights” but that’s not the way we use it.  It sounds reasonable, and even right, but it doesn’t take a very lengthy examination of scripture to see that if this “reasonable belief” is true then the apostles, the early church, and even Jesus himself missed out on even the basic rights God has promised everyone.  Anyhow, that is another sermon for another time. 🙂  The point is, we need to be diligent in examining scripture and allowing it alone to be the basis of our “reasoning” with people.   Learning to Examine scripture and test every teaching is a vital part of an effective Act of REASON.
  • Accept: Have you ever had a “discussion” with someone that went nowhere because the outcome had been determined ahead of time?  The act of REASON is ineffective at best when one party refuses to accept that the other has value of any kind.  We struggle with the act of accept because there are things people do that are completely unacceptable.  Paul writes in Romans 15:7, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”  A critical question out of this verse ought to be, “How has Christ accepted me?”.  Can I tell him, “It’s my life!  I can do what I want!  If you really accept me, you would understand that!”?  Of course not!  But many believe that is what accepting them ought to look like.  A better comparison is like an “as-is” sale.  I love auctions and typically at an auction things are sold “as-is” because they are used and the seller cannot, or doesn’t want to, verify an item’s condition.  There are times I will see something and it is obvious it needs work.  With some TLC, some repairs, and some changes it can be a very useful item but not so much “as-is”.  My purchase of it — my acceptance of it — isn’t based so much on its current condition, but on the potential value I see it having when it has been restored.  If I don’t accept it as having value beyond its current condition, rarely will I give it a second look.  Christ accepted you and I as having great value beyond the current condition He found us in.  When we see that same value in all people, we learn to accept them at a level that allows us to really engage in the act of reason with them.    When we are growing in the Act of REASON, we begin to Accept people because of the value all people have when they are restored through Christ.
  • Surrender: Do you ever find yourself at places you would just as soon not be and wonder how you got there and how are you ever going to get out of there?  Many times it is hard to surrender our will and desires to be in one place so that the act of REASON can be effective in our current location that we may not have chosen.  When it comes to sharing the reason you have for the hope that is within you, is God in charge of when and where you do that or do you decide when and where it’s appropriate?  Even when the timing of Paul’s movement from city to city seems to be dictated by angry mobs and not by his choice, he surrenders his will to God’s and goes about reasoning with the people wherever he, and they, happen to be.  God was in charge so it didn’t matter if it was the local “preaching/teaching” building, the marketplace, or the riverfront, Paul was going to reason with people about their need for Jesus.  There is also a surrender of results seen in Paul’s efforts to reason with the people.  We would like a storybook ending to all of Paul’s missionary efforts —  the people heard, they understood the reasoning Paul presented regarding the truth of Jesus, they all accepted the message, everyone repented of their sin, all were immersed into Jesus Christ, and everyone lived happily ever after! 🙂  But that is not the way it went for Paul and it is not the way it goes for us.  We need to learn, as Paul did, to do our part and trust God for the increase.  The Act of REASON lived in our life requires that we fully engage in the act of Surrender to God’s will in everything.
  • Observe:  Have you ever stuck you foot in your mouth?  Of course!  We’ve all been there — saying something that once it is out and we look around and hear it in context of where we are, it was rather inappropriate at best.  Without the element of observation, it is easy to do that even within the Act of REASON.  The act of observe works closely with the previous points.  A good practice is to look around, pay attention, and think before you say anything.  Observe a person, a family, a city, and the context so that the starting point for sharing the reason for the hope that you have makes sense with the listener.  Acts 17 gives us a great lesson in observation and then what to do with what we observe.  It was through careful observation that Paul was able to see beyond the surface elements of the city of Athens and into the heart of what was happening.  Paul could see that this was a people who longed to worship and were very religious in that pursuit — they just had no knowledge of the only true and living God.  When you take the time to observe people, pray that God would help you see beyond the surface actions and into what deep desires those actions are coming from.  It is when you begin to connect the true and holy qualities of God with how they meet the very desires a person is trying to fulfill through everything else that the act of reason begins to take hold.  To meet a person where they are at with the Act of REASON requires that you are serious in your practice of the act of Observe.
  • Notice: This is tied very closely to the act of Observe but often takes it to a finer level.  It is one thing to observe people and surroundings, it is another to notice the importance of what you see!  Paul observed many objects of worship, even one to an “unknown god”, as he walked about Athens.  What he noticed was a deep desire to worship and a longing for a God that would make Himself known to them.  Many times when we do observe people, we are so put off by what we see that we fail to notice that which we don’t see.  We condemn the pagan practices of pagans while failing to notice how those practices and desires can be key in our attempts to reason with them about the good news of Jesus.  (As a side note, we shouldn’t be all that surprised when pagans act like pagans.  It is when Christians act like pagans that we have the real problem.)  When God gives you opportunity to reason with people who are yet to be in relationship with Him through His Son, pray that God would help you to notice the real desire or need that exists under the sin that might be more obvious than the need.  By showing how God can fill that desire or need you are able to present hope because you took the time to notice.  When we spend the time needed to fully engage in the act of Notice, we often find a foundation to build on with the Act of REASON.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of REASON?  Do you fully and genuinely treat all people with Respect?  Do you spend the time needed to Examine scripture to be sure the answers you give others are accurate according to what God says?  Are you able to Accept all people as having great value in the eyes of God and see their potential as restored people?  Do you Surrender daily your will, location, and results to God?  Are you willing to slow down and Observe people and surroundings to have a more complete picture of who they are?  Will you pray for God’s help to Notice the importance of what you observe?  I pray that the act of REASON expressed through your life will boldly show the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

The Act of HOPE (Acts 10)

It is 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 10 in our sermon series we find Cornelius, a God-fearing man who, as a Gentile, was on the outside looking in when it came to true hope through Jesus.  As he sought God, God opened the eyes of Cornelius and Peter so they experienced the Act of HOPE!  Let’s look at some lessons we can learn from the example of the early church and the conversion of Cornelius and the hope that becomes his.

  • Honor:  What do you do when you find yourself with little, or no, hope?  How does hope grow?  What seed can be planted in a life, yours or that of someone else, that would grow into hope?  I believe the answer to these questions begin with the act of honor.  Cornelius chose to honor God even when his circumstances, or lot in life, might suggest to most that it just isn’t worth it.  It was more than mere words, his life honored God by what he did!  Jesus called out the religious leaders of His day as  hypocrites by stating Isaiah spoke of them when he said, “These people honor me with their lips but their heart is far from me.”  Hope begins to grow when we honor God with our whole being.  It is through our honor of God that we allow our eyes to be open to the true plight of our self and others.  When we honor God, we also recognize that He has the ability to change and/or carry us through circumstances that appear to us as lacking greatly in hope.  When God calls you to grow in the Act of HOPE, recognize that both the foundation and seed of real hope comes from genuine acts of Honor given to our God.
  • Opportunity:  It is through our honor of God that He opens the doors of opportunity in the midst of what human eyes would see as hopeless.  As he prays one afternoon, Cornelius has a vision of an angel of God bringing a message that his prayers have been heard.  So, what was he praying?  We don’t have a text of his prayers but by examining the answer that God gives it would seem that at least part of his prayer was asking for the opportunity to be in a full relationship with God.  The answer to the prayer seems to be very simple, “send for Peter”.  Why?  Because Cornelius and his household needed to hear the good news of Jesus!  They needed a person to share with them the opportunity to have real hope through the blood of Jesus.  It is a message not entrusted to angels, but to the followers of Jesus.  Paul would write in his letter to the Romans about this very need: “How can they hear without someone preaching to them.  And how can they preach unless they are sent” (Romans 10:14-15).  In order to give hope to others, we must step outside of our comfort zone and share the opportunity of knowing Jesus with those we may not even think deserve it.  God had to teach Peter that this opportunity was for all who would call on the name of the Lord.   Learning to accept, and give, the act of Opportunity is a vital part of receiving and sharing the Act of HOPE.
  • Power: There is something about the combination of a genuine honor of God and opportunity to be in relationship with God that ignites an incredible power!  Paul’s prayer for the Romans was that they would “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”  (Romans 15:13).  Do you believe God has the power to change a life, period, or just some lives?  Do we fail to honor people with the opportunity to know Jesus because we decide God doesn’t want them or is powerless to reach them?  It took a vision repeated three times and the voice of the Lord to convince Peter that God has the power, and desire, to save Gentiles as well as Jews.  When the honor of God that was expressed by Cornelius and his family experienced the opportunity to hear the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, the power of God’s Spirit was poured out upon them and they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.      When we are growing in the Act of HOPE, we live with growing amazement that comes from experiencing the act of Power in the lives of all those who believe.
  • Explanation: I wonder if the events of Acts 10 were on Peter’s mind at all when he wrote, “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).  What good is an explanation without someone willing to listen?  As Christians, we are required to walk by faith and not by sight yet there are times when an explanation is not only appropriate, but required.  In Acts 10 Peter explains to Cornelius how God taught him that differentiating between Jew and Gentile was wrong.  Cornelius explains to Peter about his desire to know God and to listen to all that God has commanded.  It is in this atmosphere of explanation that hope springs to life!  There are many people who live without hope because you and I have failed to explain to them with gentleness and respect about the hope that dwells within us.  When we spend time Explaining a relationship with Jesus in gentleness and respect, we give the Act of HOPE to people as they are able to escape from the power of sin and death in life and in eternity.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of HOPE?  Do you fully and genuinely Honor God in all that you do and say?  Do you consistently make the most of every Opportunity to both share and grow in faith?  Do you faithfully live in the Power of God’s Spirit?  Do you use gentleness and respect as you Explain the hope you have in Jesus Christ?  I pray that the act of HOPE expressed through your life will boldly show the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

HOPE In The Valley

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
     he leads me beside quiet waters, 
      he restores my soul.
     He guides me in paths of righteousness
     for his name’s sake. 
 Even though I walk
     through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
     for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
     they comfort me. 
 You prepare a table before me
     in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
     my cup overflows. 
 Surely goodness and love will follow me
     all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

 Psalm 23 is familiar to many and often looked to for comfort and encouragement in times of grief and great loss.  In preparing to preach recently at Deer Run, God helped me to see a connection between this passage and the statements of Jesus in John 10 where He identifies Himself as the good Shepherd.  As I look at these passages, I see four things that Jesus brings to us so that we can have HOPE in the valley.

I know that often it feels like the time in the valley is so desolate, and you’re so alone, that there can’t possibly be anyone else that is in the valley or could even understand.  Unfortunately, or fortunately depending how you look at it, that is just not true.  We all walk through the valley at times — many times more often than we admit and for most, more often than we like.  Some of our valleys are much easier for others, and ourself, to identify.  In the 23 Psalm, David writes of the “valley of the shadow of death”.  It is one of the reasons this Psalm is used so often to comfort families and loved ones at funeral services as they walk through that valley.  It is a valley that we all walk through from time to time but not the only valley we are likely to experience.  There are the valleys of loneliness, rejection, hurt, anger, illness, poverty, hunger, need, exhaustion, despair, confusion, . . . I hope you get the point, the list goes on and on.  You’ve probably seen yourself in one or more of these valleys as well as others that you have experienced.  The good news is that God can, and wants, to bring HOPE to your valley.

The first quality that God desires to bring to our valley is Healing.  Jesus states that it is not the healthy that need a physician, but the sick.  He came to bring a wellness to the lives of those who realize they are sick — a healing to those who are hurting in the valley.  David describes that in this Psalm as restoring the soul.  As our Shepherd, God wants to bring healing to the innermost part of who we are.  Healing is needed when we walk through our valley.  God’s desire is for us to find and depend on Him as the one who heals.

Secondly, we find Opportunity in the valley.  This can be extremely hard to grasp while we are in the valley but God can use our hardships and heartaches to prepare and refine us for greater things.  It has often been said that an advantage of hitting rock bottom is that there is nowhere to go but up.  While I wouldn’t suggest reaching that point purposefully, as Christians our valleys ought to cause us to evaluate where we are at and to look up.  It is in the valley that we often have the opportunity to learn greater trust and dependence on God.  The life lessons learned in the valley, while often the hardest, are usually not learned anywhere else.  God’s gift of opportunity in the valley is a key component of the hope that we all long for.

Protection in the valley can often seem like a great mystery and contradiction to us — particularly while we are in the valley.  Our mind often thinks that if God were providing protection, I wouldn’t be here in the first place.  As one who had been in the valley numerous times, David realized that even when he walks through the valley of the shadow of death there was no need to fear evil because God was with him.  David spent so much time being tracked down and hunted with Saul trying to kill  him.  He, more than many, understood the protection God could give as he speaks of God preparing a table for him in the presence of his enemies.  I don’t know about you, but for me it takes a great amount of confidence in the One protecting me for me to be able to sit at a table while my enemies are watching.  God’s protecting us from the evil one went all the way to Calvary where the “Good Shepherd” laid down his life for His sheep — you and I.  Holding fast to God as our protector goes a long way in bring hope to our valley.

Additionally, we have Encouragement in the valley.  David realized that the rod and staff of his Shepherd were not meant to harm or frighten him but to bring comfort to his life.  Sometimes it is in our valley that we are quiet and still enough to feel the comfort of God’s rod and staff in our life.  David recognized that God’s presence in  his valley was an encouraging reminder that His goodness and mercy would be with him all the days of his life.  But it didn’t end there.  It was in the valley that he was reminded of the great encouragement that comes with the promise of dwelling in the house of the LORD forever.  Encouragement in the valley provides hope as we recognize the great love and faithfulness of the God we serve.

Do you need HOPE in your valley today?  I pray that you would lean mightily upon God for insight into His Healing, Opportunity, Protection, and Encouragement that He desires for you to have. 

But wait, there’s more!  Whether you are currently in a valley or not, you have a job to do!  Spread the HOPE that God has brought into your life.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians and instructs us to comfort others with the same comfort we have received through Jesus.  Part of the opportunity of our valley is in the receiving of comfort and hope from our LORD so that we in turn can offer comfort and hope to others.  We learn through scripture that Jesus was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin.  He walked through the same valleys we find ourselves in.  He knows our sorrows and our pain first hand.  It is through His greatest valley that we find the foundation for HOPE in our valley.

Praying that you and I both receive and share HOPE in the valleys of life.