Archive for February, 2006

Festus arrived in Jerusalem, from Caesarea, and the Jewish leaders begged for Paul to be transferred there. They had hatched a plan to kill Paul along the way. Festus didn’t fall for it, however. He told the Jews to send some of their leaders with him back to Caesarea where they could bring charges against Paul. Ten days later, court convened and the Jews brought all sorts of false charges, which Paul denied. At this point, Festus acquiesced to the Jews and asked Paul if he was willing to go to Jerusalem to stand trial. Festus seems pretty wishy washy to me.

Paul is fed up. He’s been jerked around from the time of his arrest, several days ago, because none of the officials can ascertain what he is guilty of. But they are afraid of inciting the Jews, so they continue to keep him imprisoned and bring him up on unknown charges. Paul points out that this is Caesar’s court, and he should be tried by Caesar. If the charges are true, he’s willing to die. But if they’re false, he shouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. Festus agrees, “To Caesar you will go” and leaves him in prison until Caesar can be sent for, because he doesn’t want to deal with it, anyway.

King Agrippa and his wife Bernice, traveling through Caesarea, stop to pay their respects to Festus, who tells them about Paul’s case. He said, “When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive.”

I find it strange that this ruler is unfamiliar with the “dead man named Jesus” or that he had risen from the dead. I was always under the impression that the entire Roman empire, including Caesarea, was well aware of the story. According to the NET notes, Festus was appointed procurator of Palestine after Nero recalled Felix in AD 57 or 58. That may explain his ignorance, but really – a mere 20-odd years have passed since Christ’s death and resurrection. Does anyone else find this odd?

Agrippa says he wants to hear this Paul, and Festus gives him the chance the very next day. He is greeted in the court by all the important men in the city and Paul is brought before him. Festus announces that although the Jews want to kill Paul, he has found the man guilty of nothing. He states that he is willing to send the prisoner to the emperor at Rome, at Paul’s request, but first he must have a reason for doing so.

Isn’t it interesting how this story parallels the unlawful trials of Jesus? Neither has broken any laws. But the Jews’ hearts are so hardened they are not only unreceptive to the gospel, they also seek to kill those bringing the message. Both Pilate and Festus find no fault with the men, realizing the conflict is not civil but spiritual, but because of their political motivations they are willing to appease the Jews. And yet they both struggle inwardly with their conscience, knowing the men are blameless. Neither wants to be the one to condemn an innocent man.

Even back then, rulers of great and mighty empires were prey for special interest groups.

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20:1 When you go to war against your enemies and see chariotry and troops who outnumber you, do not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, is with you. 20:2 As you move forward for battle, the priest will approach and say to the soldiers, 20:3 “Listen, Israel! Today you are moving forward to do battle with your enemies. Do not be fainthearted. Do not fear and tremble or be terrified because of them, 20:4 for the Lord your God goes with you to fight on your behalf against your enemies to give you victory.” 20:5 Moreover, the officers are to say to the troops, “Who among you has built a new house and not dedicated it? He may go home, lest he die in battle and someone else dedicate it. 20:6 Or who among you has planted a vineyard and not benefited from it? He may go home, lest he die in battle and someone else benefit from it. 20:7 Or who among you has become engaged to a woman but has not married her? He may go home, lest he die in battle and someone else marry her.” 20:8 In addition, the officers are to say to the troops, “Who among you is afraid and fainthearted? He may go home so that he will not make his fellow soldier’s heart as fearful as his own.” 20:9 Then, when the officers have finished speaking, they must appoint unit commanders to lead the troops. – Deuteronomy 20:1-9

We tend to think that it is our job to fight against injustice and wrong. We tend to think that we have to be the ones to make a difference in this world. That is just simply not true. We only have to be the ones to right wrong and injustice when we are fighting on God’s side with God’s direction and guidance. There is a big difference here that is worth keeping in focus. I am not saying that it is not our God given commission to be the righters of wrong in this world. I am saying that we are only called to do it with God on our side. In Deuteronomy 20:1-9 God actually gave the condition under which some people should not fight. These conditions largely centered around two things – pressing family concerns and fear.

What does this mean? It means that some of us are going to be used by God to fight poverty. Others will be used by God to fight racism and other forms of prejudice. Still others are called to spread the Gospel through more traditional means. What is truly important is that we are following hard after God and the calling he has placed on our lives.

What does it not mean? If you think it means that you can always ignore God’s call because of your family or your fear, you are wrong. We must always put God first, but there are times when it is God’s desire for us to take care of family matters (of course, scripture also points out the inappropriate idolization of family that stops a person from ever doing God’s will.) Also, fear is never a good excuse, but as it says in the words of Deuteronomy, it is better to send a person full of fear home than to let it spread to others.

This seems to me to talk more about the season in our life and our relationship with God. When we are right with our God, then we will know those times in our lives when he just wants us to rest in him. We will also know those times when his call is so strong and urgent that we must immediately take action. We will also understand that these times of rest are temporary and are meant to prepare us for the next battle God wants us to engage in.

Right now I am going through one of these periods of rest. God has clearly told me to stop trying to make things happen and to just let him take care of everything. He has told me to go home and take care of my family and our needs. This is very hard for me. I like to be on the front lines, but that is not the place God has for me right now. Part of me is very restless, but the other part of me is glad to be in the place in life. I am glad because I know that this is time to prepare for the battles to come. It is a time to get everything in order and just ground myself in God.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for times of rest and reflection. Thank you for times of getting everything in order. Help me to use this a time of learning, meditation on your Word and recommitment to you. You are my God and my King. I love you Lord. Amen.

19:15 A single witness may not testify against another person for any trespass or sin that he commits. A matter may be legally established only on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 19:16 If a false witness testifies against another person and accuses him of a crime, 19:17 then both parties to the controversy must stand before the Lord, that is, before the priests and judges who will be in office in those days. 19:18 The judges will thoroughly investigate the matter, and if the witness should prove to be false and to have given false testimony against the accused, 19:19 you must do to him what he had intended to do to the accused. In this way you will purge evil from among you. 19:20 The rest of the people will hear and become afraid to keep doing such evil among you. 19:21 You must not show pity; the principle will be a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, and a foot for a foot. – Deuteronomy 19:15-21

“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” – These are not very popular words or ideas today. I don’t really like them much either. I used to take them to heart. I used to think that the major problem in our society was that people did not realize concrete consequences to their actions. I used to be a strong supporter of the death penalty for murderers, rapists, child molesters and the like. Today, I am not. I realized that grace was missing somewhere in the whole equation. I realized that I could definitely not be the one to cast the first stone as required in Deuteronomy 17:6-7. Maybe this was because I came to really understand what Jesus meant when he stated that the person without sin should cast the first stone. Then he told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more. So what do we do when grace collide with Justice? I still find that we live in a world that is becoming increasingly violent because people know that they are very likely to get away with it. Many children are out of control because parents refuse to discipline their children. I am always amazed when I see a child blatantly disregarding their parents, but I know you cannot really blame the child because they learned they did not really need to obey from their parents. I have come to the conclusion that we can learn one very important idea about discipline from these words in Deuteronomy. We must be consistent. You don’t need to have the death penalty to stop murders, rapists and child molesters, but you do need to have consistent and strong punishment for the crimes. You don’t need to have severely punish a child for every minor infraction, but you do need to have consistently enforced rules and consistently enforced consequences.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being the God who is consistent. We can rely on your truth, love, mercy, grace and justice, for they do not change. Thank you for being an amazing example of proper disciple for both children and adults. Help me to be the kind of parent who loves my children through proper discipline, love and grace. I love you Lord. Amen.

Paul has been brought to Felix, the governor of the province, so that he can hear charges that are being brought by the Jews. The Jews bring their lawyer who basically makes an argument (with no proof) that Felix is a great governor of peace and Paul is a trouble maker setting out the disturb the peace. It does not really seem to work, but Felix leaves Paul in prison hoping he will eventually be bribed to release him. This also fails. Felix does listen to what Paul has to say and becomes convicted of his sins by the Holy Spirit. Like so many others, instead of repenting he stops listening. Finally after two years Felix is succeeded by Festus. Paul remained in prison.

This short chapter makes one very important point about the level to which the Jews had stooped in their quest to retain power and squelch faith in Jesus. They had resorted to politics along with their Roman rules to maintain their status. If they had truly been working as God works they would have let God discredit the new upstarts like Paul, but instead they used the political institutions of Rome and their own dirty relationship with those institutions to discredit and hold down those who believed differently. Sadly, the church cannot claim to be guilt free when it comes to charges like this (i.e. The Crusades.)

Paul’s opening statement to his accusers was, “My conscience is clear.” They were offended enough by this statement to punch him in the mouth. Paul responded with a tirade. First he called them hypocrites – painted on the outside, but filthy within. Then he accused them of disobeying the law by hitting him before the conclusion of the trial. When it was brought to his attention he was blasting the high priest, he backed off, quoting Exodus 22:28, “You must not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.

Paul changed tactics, drawing the Pharisees onto his side. He claimed his trial was about the issue of the resurrection of the dead. He knew this was a divisive issue between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and both contingents were present. Paul put the Pharisees in a position of defending his ‘Road to Damascus’ account because they believed in (and fought with the Sadducees about) the possibility of divine appearances, and resurrections, and such. The Sadducees said ‘Malarkey!’ to anything mystical (that’s why they were sad-you-see). The argument became so riotous, the trial was called off and Paul was sent back to the barracks.

“The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Have courage, for just as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” I love it that Paul hears from God. God made sure Paul understood that everything was going according to HIS plan. I imagine that word from God was very encouraging to the one with the busted lip, who narrowly escaped a riot!

The Jews were SO predictable! They hatched an assassination plan. Paul’s nephew caught wind of it (small world) and told Paul about it. Then the young fellow told the commanding officer, who hatched a counter-plan. Apparently God uses spies.

The commanding officer snuck Paul out during the night. He wrote a letter, indicating the charges against Paul were religious rather than civil. Paul was detained in Herod’s palace while they awaited his accusers for the second trial.

16:1 Observe the month Abib and keep the Passover to the Lord your God, for in that month he brought you out of Egypt by night. 16:2 You must sacrifice the Passover animal (from the flock or the herd) to the Lord your God in the place where he chooses to locate his name. 16:3 You must not eat any yeast with it; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast, symbolic of affliction, for you came out of Egypt hurriedly. You must do this so you will remember for the rest of your life the day you came out of the land of Egypt. 16:4 There must not be a scrap of yeast within your land for seven days, nor can any of the meat you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain until the next morning. 16:5 You may not sacrifice the Passover in just any of your villages that the Lord your God is giving you, 16:6 but you must sacrifice it in the evening in the place where he chooses to locate his name, at sunset, the time of day you came out of Egypt. 16:7 You must cook and eat it in the place the Lord your God chooses; you may return the next morning to your tents. 16:8 You must eat bread made without yeast for six days. The seventh day you are to hold an assembly for the Lord your God; you must not do any work on that day. – Deuteronomy 16:1-8

The Old Testament is filled with passage after passage in which God is telling the people to not forget important events in the life of the Israelite nation. The event might be the passover, the desert time period, the provision of manna or another. Interestingly, In Deuteronomy 11:1-7, God clearly tells the Israelites to remember that which they experienced because they will be held accountable for it. It seems that God really wants us to remember those significant events in our lives that have had a profound impact on who were are as believers. We may not have experienced the parting of the Red Sea or the miracles that brought the Israelites out of Egypt, but we each have had encounters with God that should be set in our minds for our lives. God told the Israelites to commemorate these times with festival and celebrations. It was his way of making sure they did not forget what God had done for them and a way to pass it down to future generations. This has caused me to begin to think about those “spiritual” moments I need to start celebrating so they remain in the front of my mind. I remember when God called me to vocational ministry and clearly told me to go to the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. How do I begin to celebrate that encounter with God? While, I don’t think it needs to be something big, it does need to help me keep focused on God and rely on him. What do you need to celebrate.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for giving us those encounters with you that we always need to remember. Help us to find ways to celebrate your activity in our lives. Help us to always focus on you, your will and our life in Christ. I love you Lord. Amen.

To start where Chris left off. Paul is speaking to the Jews in their own language. The way Luke wrote this just gets you attention, he write “when they heard them in his own language the silence became greater.” This just proves that when we talk to people we need to speak their language and be able to reach them where they are. Paul begins by setting out his credentials and telling the crowd that he is a Jew and was educated under Gamaliel, which was one of the top teachers of the day.

Paul then begins to let the people know how he persecuted those that followed “the Way” until he ran into Jesus on the road to Damascus. This is where Paul begins to tell his story on how he was changed, once I was blind but now I see. Paul continued to tell the story of how his blindness was healed by Ananias. After his sight returned Ananias speaks into his life regarding the mission that God had in store for him.

Paul then begins to share about how the Lord told him to leave Jerusalem and go to the Gentiles. I can just imagine the reaction of the commander trying to figure out all the commotion. Paul had just been speaking a language that he could not understand and so the commander decides that he will probably have to beat Paul to get the information out of him. This was just about to happen until Paul, while he was being tied up, said “is it legal to whip a Roman Citizen without a trial.” I could only guess that Paul said this in the very last moment to draw attention to the situation. So the commander comes over and asks him the question about his citizenship. Paul say’s,” yes I am a citizen of Rome” and the commander say, “so am I and it cost me a lot of money.” The next thing Paul says, is like trumping your opponent in a card game, “but I was born a citizen.” What a great ending to see the commander and the others step away and get frightened when they realized that they just tied up a Roman citizen without a trial.

The next day we see the commanding officer bringing him before the Jewish council and that is where the chapter ends.

11:26 Take note – I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: 11:27 the blessing if you take to heart the commandments of the Lord your God that I am giving you today, 11:28 and the curse if you pay no attention to his commandments and turn from the way I am setting before you today to pursue other gods you have not known. 11:29 When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are to possess, you must pronounce the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal. 11:30 Are they not across the Jordan River, toward the west, in the land of the Canaanites who live in the Arabah opposite Gilgal near the oak of Moreh? 11:31 For you are about to cross the Jordan to possess the land the Lord your God is giving you, and you will possess and inhabit it. 11:32 Be certain to keep all the statutes and ordinances that I am presenting to you today. – Deuteronomy 11:26-32

These words in Deuteronomy are something we should take to heart. While we are not about to go in an try to conquer land God has specifically given to us, we can still learn from this idea of a blessing and a curse. The real issue here is choice. God gave the people of Israel a clear choice. On the one side, they could choose blessing by following and serving God. They were promised a land of milk and honey. On the other side, they could choose a curse by disregarding God’s law and following after other gods. They were promised a life of subjugation and hardship. Sadly, we know that they did not chose the life of blessing. Exactly what God told them would happen did. Today, God’s promise to us is also one of blessing. It is not necessarily a blessing of prosperity or the easy life, but it is a promise of abundant life. God also still offer us a curse. We can choose to live as we please and we will experience an empty life filled with longing and the unending search for meaning. Truthfully, neither option is an easy life, but the one God offers is a significant life.

Heavenly Father,

I thank you for offering us a choice. I thank you for giving us the ability to choose. I pray that my eyes would remain open and the eyes of others would open so they may partake in your life of significance. I love you Lord. Amen.

Acts 21 opens as Paul and Luke are leaving the Ephesian elders. They start their journey toward Jerusalem by sea, heading across the Mediterranean to Tyre (in Phoenicia, North of Jerusalem). That was quite a lengthy journey (but not by Paul’s standards), and in Tyre they met up with the disciples there and stayed with them for a week. Interestingly, the disciples urged Paul, “through the Spirit” not to proceed to Jerusalem. Despite this, Paul left them anyway!

If the Spirit was behind the disciples’ warnings, wasn’t Paul disobeying God? Or was this a different type of obedience? Could it be that what the Spirit was doing was foreshadowing Paul’s suffering to the disciples, which distressed them, and yet Paul had his own instructions? This is a little troubling to me, since it implies that the Spirit is not self-consistent, taken at face value. Any thoughts?

They left, again by ship, hitting port cities along the way at Ptolemais and Caesarea (heading south toward Jerusalem still). Here they met up with Philip ( from Acts 6 and 8 ), who had four daughters each with the gift of prophesy! One source I have mentions that, in addition to these women, other women have this gift also, as noted in Exodus 15 (Miriam), Judges 4 (Deborah), 2Kings 22 (Huldah), Nehemiah 6 (Noadiah), Isaiah 8 (Isaiah’s wife), and Luke 2 (Anna).

After a few days, a prophet, Agabus, came to visit, and predicted Paul would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles. Upon hearing this, everyone (Luke included, surprisingly) begged him not to proceed on his journey to Jerusalem. Paul explained that he would not only be bound, but would die on behalf of Jesus’ name. Refusing to back down, he persuaded them to accept this.

They arrived in Jerusalem and met up with James (brother of Jesus) and the other church elders, and Paul told them about his ministry to the Gentiles. Then they explained that he (Paul) has been the target of rumors that he’s requiring jewish children to not be circumsized (an obvious exaggeration, based on belief Paul had overstepped the decision the Jerusalem council adopted regarding Gentiles and circumcision in Acts 15). They advise him to undergo a purification ceremony with four other men. This is, in a way, a concession to ease tensions, and he agrees to this, even though it’s not what he believes.

In this way, he’s being all things to all people by sacrificing a non-essential element to attain a greater goal, which is harmony, allowing him to spread the gospel message further.

This backfired somewhat. When at the temple, he was spotted by some Jews there who managed to stir up a crowd and capture Paul. They accused him, further, of desecrating the temple by bringing Greeks there (which he hadn’t done), further infuriating the mob. This created a city-wide upraor, and he was dragged from the temple, the gates were shut, and they were trying to kill him.

He’s ironically rescued by Greek soldiers, trying to get to the bottom of this mess, they cannot even question him amidst the angry shouting mob, so they have to carry him to a private barracks. Paul spoke greek to the commander so that he could get permission to address the crowd… in Aramaic. It’s good to know more than one language, particularly when you travel… and are being persecuted. And so ends Acts 21, as Paul is about to address the shouting angry mob.

8:1 You must keep carefully all these commandments I am giving you today so that you may live, increase in number, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised to your ancestors. 8:2 Remember the whole way by which he has brought you these forty years through the desert so that he might, by humbling you, test you to see if you have it within you to keep his commandments or not. 8:3 So he humbled you by making you hungry and then feeding you with unfamiliar manna. He did this to teach you that humankind cannot live by bread alone, but also by everything that comes from the Lord’s mouth. – Numbers 8:1-3

Numbers 8-10 is filled with some of the best teaching in the Old Testament. In fact, I think it is some of the best teaching in the whole of the Bible. It was hard to pick just one topic today, but I really like what Numbers 8:1-3 had to say. Lately, I have been really putting a lot of thought into what it means to really serve God in an authentic way. I have been trying to put aside all of my personal desire, regardless of how noble they might be and concentrate on what God would want me to do. Part of this process has been trying to quite myself and just listen to God’s voice. This is not a very easy thing for me to do. I am a doer. I like to be making things happen. I actually started blogging scripture to bring balance to my spiritual life. Doing God’s will and knowing God are equally important things. Lately, I have felt that my doing has not been so much about God’s will as mine. Just like the Israelites needed manna so they would realize they needed to live by what came from the Lord’s mouth, I need that same manna. I need to stop doing, just to be doing and start listening so I know my doing is really God’s doing. The truth is I don’t like this. It means I will not be able to do things my way. It means I will have to stop trying to make things happen and wait on God. These are not easy things for me.

Heavenly Father,

You gave the Israelites manna to teach them to rely on you. Just like they did not want to manna, I do not either. I am not looking forward to this time in my life. Not doing is simply foreign to me. Help me to rest in you and, most importantly, to listen to your still small voice. I love you Lord. Amen.