Friday, August 29, 2014

When God’s Way Out Isn’t a Miracle

Rescued and kept secure by the army of the Emperor, his enemies were more than ever committed to his death.  But they could not overtake the well-guarded fortress in which he was confined.  So a plan was conceived to bring him out into the open in a ruse to bring him for a second and calm talk with them.  But on the way to the meeting he (and presumably any escorting soldiers) would be overcome and he would be assassinated.

Some forty conspirators pledged a solemn vow that they would neither eat or drink until Paul was killed.  Letting their elders in on the plot they would have had a better chance of being successful had they kept it to themselves.  But somehow Paul’s sister’s son heard of the conspiracy.  Somehow he was in the right place at the right time. 

Caring for his uncle, he went into the Roman barracks where he was sequestered and let him in on the plan for his murder.  At Paul’s instruction he took what he had heard and knew to the Roman commander, a man named Lysias, who thanked him and instructed him to tell no one.  Then at night, in the cover of darkness Paul was led out of the city, guarded by 200 soldiers, 70 cavalry and 200 spearmen. 

When in the morning his potential assassins learned he had escaped the night before and was guarded by such a large contingent they must have wondered who spilled the beans.

We know of at least three occasions in the book of Acts where God supernaturally intervened when His Apostles had been in danger and were in jail.  Twice Peter was let out with the assistance of an angel.  And Paul and Silas, in the jail in the Greek city of Philippi were freed by an earthquake at midnight.  But God doesn’t always use miraculous divine and supernatural interventions to assail what seems to be the impossible in the lives of His children.

Here in Acts 23 He used Paul’s nephew.  It was providential, but certainly not miraculous.  God just made sure the nephew was in the right place at the right time to overhear some zealous men talking about how they would take care of Paul. 

But, what if, when the nephew came to Paul and told him about the plot, Paul had said, “Don’t tell anyone.  Let’s just see what miracle God might perform”? 

There are preachers who will tell you that the way out of debt is to send them some “seed money”, and God will miraculously multiply that amount back to you.  And if you need a miracle for your health, let’s say they’ll invite you to put one hand on the TV while they pray for you, while with the other hand you’re reaching for you wallet to send them some cash. 

More likely, the way out is to cut unnecessary expenses, live on a budget and honor God in your giving, as you are able.  The answer to our deepest needs and troubles is always provided by God, it’s just not always something unexplainably supernatural.  Be careful when you hear someone say, “Look for your next miracle”.  The real answer form God might be as simple as cutting up your credit card.

Then God had the pagan Romans provide Paul with safety and security to his next stop on the way to Jerusalem.  Again, no mention is made of guardian angels.  Unlike Philip in Acts 9 being “carried away by the Spirit” from one location to another, Paul rode a horse at night in the cover of darkness escorted and protected by 270 GIs.  Taxpayers provided Paul’s protection.  But that’s how God did it.  He’s God, and He can cover us however He chooses.

Just don’t be upset when the sea doesn’t part.  You might not need a miracle… maybe just an alert nephew.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Blessed Assurance [Updated]

My mom called Friday.  Mom’s old school.  No email.  No Facebook.  No texts.  She doesn’t have a computer, but she does have a cell phone.  But even when she calls I think in her mind it’s still “long distance”, so the conversations are brief and to the point.  And for some reason, at this stage of her life, when I look at my ringing phone and see “Mom”, I wonder what bad news might be coming.

The night before my dad’s oldest lifelong friend was taken to the hospital by his wife.  He complained that his head felt like it was about to explode.  I’ve known this man, I guess since infancy.  He and dad were boyhood friends.  They played together, joined the Marines together and it seemed like they competed to see which one could produce the most offspring.  Dad lost.  He only had five.

Eventually they both wound up in Viet Nam, and then came home to finish out their military careers and move on to other ventures.  For many years they somehow lost touch.  But in mid-life they “found” each other again, and what they found made their friendship even better and deeper, for they discovered they were no longer simply best friends, they were brothers.

Let me explain.  They were not physically related.  But in their post-Viet Nam years they had both, unbeknown to one another, committed their lives to Jesus Christ.  And as it often happens, their families followed dad’s example and became Christians as well.  Then, when again they connected and began to talk about their lives they were overjoyed to hear of their own separate but similar faith journeys.

Now Dad’s best buddy is dying.  The doctors give him no hope.  And after all, he’s pushing 80 years old.  There’s not much his body can do to rebound from a massive brain hemorrhage.

I’ve tried to get some updates by checking his Facebook page.  (Yes, he does Facebook and has tried without success to get my dad into the 21st Century.)  Here are some of the most recent comments posted to his page that I’ve found.

“So you are going to sneak out of here and let the rest of us here to deal with all the junk that's going on...”.  (He was very vocal about social and political issues.)

“Love you granddad going to miss you, but I know I will see you again. We are praying for everyone.”

“We are going to miss you.”

One grandson posted a poem he wrote, titled “Poppa’s Love”.

What I didn’t find was silence, as if they were afraid to address the inevitable truth: our dad/grandfather is dying.  I didn't see fear of the unknown.  In fact I read comments that made his death sound more like a transfer to a new duty post than an end. I read peace.

But that’s how Christians respond to death.  We don’t “grieve like the rest, who have no hope” as though all is lost and gone.  That’s because when a man or woman puts their faith and hope in Christ, it is faith and hope for eternal life.  Death is only a change of location, and while we do grieve, it is not a hopeless feeling.  Because of Jesus’ resurrection our hope is that the grave will not hold us either.

I read their comments and so admire them.  And I’m glad I understand what they say and what they feel.  Jesus said, "I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.” (Jn. 5:24)

The old Gospel song we sang said, "Blessed assurance!  Jesus is mine.  O, what a foretaste of glory divine.  Heir of salvation.  Purchased of God.  Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.  This is my story, this is my song."  

When the end comes there can be peace if that is your song.  Life without Jesus means death without Him, too.  Choose Jesus.  Choose peace. 

[UPDATE:His oldest son posted this on Facebook this morning, 8/21/14] 
"No words will ever express the debt I owe you. There is no way to fill the void. You are my hero, and I want to be just like you when I grow up; I always have. Enjoy His presence; see you soon. Love you."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Are You Ready for the Darkest Valley?

The Apostle Paul was on his way to Jerusalem after wrapping up a long, five-year journey through the Roman province of Asia, Macedonia and Greece.  It was his third missionary venture, and as was his history, it was one of personal risk and threats against his life.  There were those who simply wanted the great Christian evangelist silenced, even if it meant assassination. 

Sharing some final thoughts with the elders of the church in the Asian capitol city of Ephesus – men in whom he had personally invested three years of instruction and mentoring – he opened up as to how he could go on in the face of persecution when most would likely have given up.  His words are almost superhuman.

"And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, except that in town after town the Holy Spirit testifies to me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” – Acts 20:22-24

Life for Paul was wrapped up, not in himself or his own wants, but in serving out the purpose given Him by the Lord.  The possibility of death was not concern for him since, as he wrote to the Philippian church, “To live is Christ and to die is gain”.  It wasn’t that Paul had a death wish.  There was much he wanted to accomplish in life.  But he had this incredible contentment in knowing his life was totally in God’s hands.

On the journey to Jerusalem Paul was twice urged rather passionately by caring friends not to go on to the city.  They had some “inside information”, revealed to them by the Holy Spirit that something horrible awaited him there.  Even his fellow missionary Luke tried to talk him out of the trip, but Paul would have none of it.  His heart was set on getting to Jerusalem.  His response to their attempts to dissuade him was, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Men who hated him and the message he preached were waiting for him there.  He knew that.  Yet he wasn’t afraid and in fact was ready for whatever would happen “for the name of the Lord Jesus”.

Like you, I’m sure, I have been shocked beyond words at the reports of the atrocities happening in Iraq as ISIS, a group filled with hate for anyone who dares believe in a different God than their own seems hell-bent on annihilating entire cultures from existence.  Children are being beheaded.  Young girls are seized, raped and sold off as slaves.  Men are crucified in front of their families.  And all because they claim faith in Jesus Christ.

As I read the reports and see the pictures I am beyond words and cannot find the right emotions as I think of innocent men, women and children suffering such horrors.  What bothers me as well is the thought that it is only by the grace of God that I wasn’t born in Iraq.  Who am I to escape their hell?  Who am I to be so blessed as to be an American?  And more, if I was one of the Christians in the path of the evil swath cut by these Islamic extremists, would I deny my Savior to escape certain death?  Would I, like Paul, be ready when death seemed certain?

Frankly, I don’t know.  I want to say, “Yes!”.  But if it was my child with a rifle pointed to his head; if it was my wife or daughter being dragged away to be raped and worse; if it were my hands and feet about to be nailed to a cross, would I cave or would I die with courage?  Would I be ready?

Please join me in praying for those who will pay the ultimate price in this genocide.  Join me in praying for someone to intercede on their behalf.  My heart breaks for what is happening, and I know yours does as well.  Let’s hope they are ready.