Integrity

All through scripture we can identify the importance of integrity. In the sinful world we live in today, it is obvious that our integrity is imperfect. Perfect integrity can be found in Jesus, and through him we are able to aim towards true integrity for ourselves.

Proverbs 12:22 The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.

I see the difficulty in today’s world. We have such a hard time having our Yes mean Yes and our No mean No. During this Financial Responsibility year – I want my yes to mean yes and people to see that I have integrity.

So I am done paying the bills this week and the coupons come flying in for Meat Bundles, joining SAM’s Club and Fresh Meals delivered to your door. Then I begin to wander in my thinking that it would save us money having meals delivered, or joining SAM’s club will really save me money. When my temptation to buy things I do not need are there. It also makes me think about the games I play on facebook and the few dollars are spend on those games. So this week – I will not spend another dime on games. Let me tell you next week how that goes.

I want to be trustworthy and respected for my word.

2 Corinthians 8:21

For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.

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4 Ways to Counter Greed

Went to an outlet mall yesterday day. I didn’t need a thing and many things were on sale, but I looked at many good deals, but I didn’t need a thing. So I didn’t buy a thing!

(1) Make God the master of all you are and have. We do not have the right to use anything as if it belongs to us. All our money and everything we have belongs to the Lord; we only manage it for Him. His Word gives us the wisdom we need to be faithful in managing His resources. If we constantly reaffirm God as the owner, we will avoid the gradual encroachment of mammon as master.

(2) Make God your focus for happiness. We are to rejoice in Him whether we have much or little (Phil. 4:4, 10-13). If we think, “I’ll be happy as soon as I get ____” (fill in the blank), we’re serving mammon, not God. If we rejoice daily in the Lord, then we can be happy with much or with little.

(3) Make God your present source of trust. If you are doing well financially, be especially careful! That’s when the danger is the greatest of shifting your trust to your bank account. If God is your trust, you won’t anxiously be seeking the things the world seeks (Matt. 6:25-34) nor will you be resting comfortably in your financial security.

(4) Make God your hope for the future. Hebrews 13:5 commands us, “Let your way of life be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you nor will I ever forsake you.’” Scripture directs us to make reasonable financial plans for the future (Prov. 6:6-11). I believe that providing for our family (1 Tim. 5:8) includes carrying a moderate amount of life insurance, having a will, and enough savings or liquid investments to cover normal emergencies. But God must be our hope for the future, not our investments or financial planning.

Deceive Us – 4 Ways

(1) Greed can deceive us by gradually becoming our master. In Jesus’ parable, the thorns are different from the birds that stole the seed and the sun that scorched the plants in that thorns grow more gradually. The birds steal the seed immediately. The sun can scorch the young plants in a day or two. But it might take weeks for the thorns gradually to strangle the plant.

None of us would say, “I’m going to make money my master.” Rather, it is a gradual, subtle process. “As soon as I get the business on its feet, I’ll have more time for my family and for the Lord. But right now I need to give it some extra time.” Sure! Each one of us needs to ask ourselves honestly: Is God or is mammon my real master?

(2) Greed can deceive us by making money our focus for happiness. Paul said (1 Tim. 6:9-10), “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.” Note the deception (“snare”; “pierced themselves”; “wandered away”). Nobody deliberately steps into a snare, pierces themselves through, or gets lost. They get trapped or pierced or lost before they know it.

The delusion is based on a desire–to get rich. People often want to get rich because they think that if they just had more, they’d be happy. But how much do you need for happiness?

One of the best modern parables on this is John Steinbeck’s The Pearl [Bantam Books]. A young man on a Pacific island dreams of finding the perfect pearl and of the happiness it will bring him and his family. One day he finds it, but he discovers that instead of happiness, it makes life miserable. Everyone is after him to steal his pearl. It almost costs him his life; it does cost him his son’s life. The pearl becomes the dominating thing in his life, his master, until … (you’ll have to read it!).

(3) Greed can deceive us if we make money our present source of trust. (See Deut. 6:10-12; 8:11-14, 17-18.) When Israel was in the wilderness, they were forced to trust God. If the manna stopped, or if God didn’t bring water from the rock, they all would have died. The spiritual danger increased when their economic danger subsided. It’s easy when you have plenty to trust your plenty instead of the Lord who can give or take away your riches.

(4) Greed can deceive us if we make money our future hope for security. “As soon as I get enough for the future, then I’ll kick back a bit,” we say. “I just want myself and my family to be financially secure.” But what is financial security? How much is enough? Those are questions every Christian must ask honestly before God and in light of His Word.

Paul’s Adventures in Malta

 

Acts 28:1-16

It was a cold and rainy day when the 276 souls arrived on the island of Malta after the shipwreck, and the people on the island were very kind to them, seeing to their needs. Since it was a cold day, they built a bonfire to help them get warm and dry. Paul, as was his custom, chipped in to help and brought in some brush for the fire. As he moved up to the heat, a viper launched itself from the brush and attached to Paul’s arm. Everyone who saw this knew Paul was a dead man walking.

The Maltese assumed that Paul must have been a very bad man, since he was saved from the shipwreck only to die from snakebite, but something very unusual happened: Nothing. As strange as it may sound to say that, it’s true; Paul’s hand should have swelled up, but it didn’t. Paul should have become quite sick, but he didn’t. Paul should have keeled over dead, but there he was as if nothing had happened. The Maltese eventually decided that rather than being a bad man, he must be a god!

Afterwards, they were taken in by the chief official of the island, a man named Publius.  He showed great hospitality to his guests but soon his father became seriously ill.

When news reached the rest of the Maltese people that Paul had healed the man’s father, they brought their sick from all over the island to Paul so that they too might be healed, and Paul was quite accommodating; one can only imagine the impact this had for the Gospel that Paul had brought with him to their island. Publius would provide everything they needed when the time came for them to set sail, some three month later.

When they finally arrived in Rome, they were warmly greeted by the brothers and sisters there. The guards were lenient with Paul at first, and allowed him to live by himself, with only one guard to keep watch. As we will see next time, nothing was done to keep him quiet…

 

 

A Series of Curious Events

 

Acts 24:1-25:12

When the Jewish officials arrived in Caesarea, they presented a vague and flimsy case to Felix; there really isn’t any other way to describe it (24:1-9). If the Jews had known about the letter Felix had already received from the Jerusalem commander, I doubt they would have taken to approach they did, for as the case was presented to Felix, it was all about a Roman citizen who had been assaulted by a mob of provincials. Paul then made a very simple and clear defense (24:10-21) which was more or less in accord with the note Felix had received from the Jerusalem garrison. We have arrived at the place where Felix should probably have dismissed the charges, but Felix knew he was in a tough political spot and adjourned for the day, saying he would render his decision when the commander of the garrison arrived on the scene. Apparently, he wanted to examine the differences between the Jewish and Pauline accounts of events. The funny thing is… Luke makes no mention of there ever having been such a meeting.

The political problem for Felix is simple: Paul hasn’t broken any laws and is popular with one set of people in the city. The Jewish leaders are obviously not being truthful, but they are the leaders of the majority of the people in the region, and people who are famous for being fiercely independent and almost impossible to deal with honestly. If Felix does the right thing, he will likely have an insurrection on his hands. If he condemns Paul, he will possibly have violence and discord in the streets, and his career would be in danger either way. Thus, as any up and coming politician would do, he stalls for time.

He stalled by having a series of meetings with Paul over a two year period; Luke makes his thinking clear:

At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him. (24:26)

There’s nothing like a little cash to break a political stalemate.

Paul did not offer any bribes, and eventually, Felix was replaced by Porcius Festus; no doubt his new posting would be less difficult.

When Festus took office, he seems to have gone to Jerusalem and discussed matters with the Jewish leaders, including the thorny question of what to do about the Paul case. Naturally, the Jews wanted a change of venue for the trial (which had already taken place) so they could set an ambush, but Festus wasn’t quite that gullible, and they would need to go to Caesarea.

In yet another hearing, the Jews brought their charges which were firmly denied by Paul. Hoping to gain favor with the Jews, Festus asked Paul if he would agree to a change of venue, and Paul opted to change the venue not to Jerusalem, but to Rome. Festus, having little choice in the matter at that point, granted the motion. Of course, Festus had no way of knowing that he was really nothing more than a pawn on God’s chess board, for it was His expressed will that Paul take the Gospel to Rome (23:11); Paul would travel there at Rome’s expense.

Yet, there was another interesting scene still to be played out in Caesarea…

Conspiracies, Plots and Politics

 

Acts 23:12-35

When Paul returned to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey, there was a spirit abroad in the city; it was the spirit of evil. After the ridiculous behavior of the Sanhedrin in the last scene, a new plot comes to light when “some Jews” form a conspiracy some 40 strong, to murder Paul. They need an accomplice in order for their plans to come to fruition, for Paul was being held in the Roman barracks, a stronghold they dared not attack. Who could they get to help them set an ambush?

Obviously, if you are plotting murder, the ones who will help you are the chief priests and elders, those great paragons of righteousness and virtue, those men who are responsible for maintaining the law of God: They quickly agreed.

In 23:17-22 we learn something interesting for it appears that Paul had a nephew in town who was privy to this information. We might rightly wonder if he was connected to the chief priests and elders in some way, after all, Paul had been a Pharisee, perhaps the nephew was in the same line of work; sadly, Luke doesn’t quite say. In any case, the nephew pays Paul a visit in the barracks to warn him, and Paul sends him off to the commander to share the information. The commander listens, and takes the warning to heart, making a plan of his own; he will send Paul to Caesarea under heavy military escort in the dark of night.

I’m not sure how Luke came into this bit of knowledge, but it seems that the commander wrote a note to Governor Felix in Caesarea:

Claudius Lysias,

To His Excellency, Governor Felix:

Greetings.

This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him. (23:25-30)

I suppose we can forgive our commander for his rather loose treatment of the facts here for he was a military man with a political hot potato on hands that was beyond his pay grade, and it would appear that this note accomplished its purpose; Felix accepted the case which was no doubt quite a relief for our commander.

Paul and Felix would have to wait for the accusers to come to Caesarea before they could proceed. Would the accusers be arrested upon arrival there for their roles as co-conspirators in the plot to murder a Roman citizen, as Roman law would require?

Don’t hold your breath…

 

 

Legal Rights

Paul, Romans and Legal Rights

Acts 22:22-29

As Paul addressed the mob, things went along for a short time in calm, and then he mentioned taking the Gospel to the Gentiles, and the mob went wild, demanding Paul’s murder. The Roman commander ordered Paul taken into the barracks where he ordered Paul to be interrogated.

At this point in the story, it is interesting to note that in the Roman worldview, the victim of a violent attack by a mob is arrested and interrogated, while the perpetrators of the violence are not; obviously this Paul guy did something, let’s make him tell us what he did.

Paul was to be encouraged to be forthcoming by flogging. This was the same kind of thing done to Jesus before His crucifixion; Paul was stripped naked, and his hands were tied to the top of a high post. If the post was high enough, his feet would actually have been off the ground, and then he would be struck repeatedly with a leather whip that was weighted down on the ends with bits of bone and rock that would rip his flesh apart… while being asked questions. This would have been by far the most severe torture he had ever endured up to this point, and it would likely result in lifelong injury or death if it went on long enough.

I have often been accused of having a rather odd sense of humor, and with that in mind I tell you that what happens next strikes me as one of the funniest scenes in all of Scripture; there is naked Paul tied to this post, his feet probably off the ground, and he asks a question…

“Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” (22:25b)

The centurion who was tasked with getting a confession from Paul got a bit of a shock with that innocent little question and went straight to his commander, who received a shock of his own, and went directly to Paul:

The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”

“Yes, I am,” he answered.

Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.”

“But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied. (22:27-28)

 

The commander’s comment in 22:28 can be taken more than one way, but for me it looks like kind of an insult, as though he were saying that he had to pay a lot to become a citizen and now anybody can be a citizen. Whatever was going through his mind, Paul had the higher status, having been born a citizen. Notice that the men who were about to commit a serious crime got out of that room “immediately” and Luke tells us the commander himself was “alarmed”; this had been a close call for all concerned.

Now the Roman commander had a call to make: What was he going to do with Paul? We’ll find that out next time, in what I think is another one of the funniest scenes in Scripture…

 

 

 

After the Purification

After the Purification

Acts 21:27-22:21

When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)

Acts 21:27-29

With these words, the riot begins. In reading them, we cannot but notice that what served as the catalyst to all that would follow was no misunderstanding, for what we have here is a bald faced lie, followed by a substantial misrepresentation. In fact, if you look closely, it isn’t an appeal based upon a religious difference, it is an appeal based upon national pride and cultural identity; no sir, this is no mere doctrinal dispute.

The crowd goes berserk, and Paul is beaten with intent to commit murder in cold blood.

The Roman commander on duty responds quickly and leads his soldiers into the fray. As one might expect of Romans, they quickly place Paul under arrest, and with great difficulty, they manage to get him out of the crowd’s grip. As they proceed away from the mob, Paul asks to be allowed to address the crowd, and remarkably, the commander agrees…

Luke records his words in 22:3-21; he tells the people of his birth and heritage as a Jew among Jews, of his training, and of his bloodthirsty pursuit of Christians. He tells of his mission to Damascus to persecute in that city, and of how the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him on the Damascus road, telling them all about that experience and of his call to bring the good news to faraway places; the crowd remained silent up to this point, but Paul would never finish telling his story…

It would seem that there was a spirit in play on that fateful day, a spirit that was not at all a holy one. What happened next?

For that dear reader, we will have to wait until next time…

Paul Sails to Jerusalem

Paul Sails to Jerusalem

Acts 21:1-16

After the long farewell to the elders from Ephesus, Paul and his party returned to the ship and set sail. Much of this passage tells of the ports of call along the way, and in some instances of ports where Paul and his party were able to meet with other believers while the ship was loading or unloading cargo. It would seem that everywhere they went; Paul was warned not to go to Jerusalem.

Luke has not told us why Paul was so intent upon visiting Jerusalem as opposed to returning to Antioch and reporting to the elders there in the church that had actually commissioned his journey; we can only speculate about his thinking. Yet whatever his reasons were, he was determined in spite of the warnings that the Holy Spirit was giving him.

They arrived in the port city of Caesarea where a prophet by the name of Agabus gave Paul yet another warning with a dramatic illustration of what would happen to him in Jerusalem and everyone begged him once again, not to go:

When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” (21:12-14)

Looking at this moment in purely human terms, it would be easy to conclude that Paul was acting rashly, that he was just being stubborn; we might even wonder if he had some kind of martyr complex. Oh I know that we really won’t confine ourselves to this moment, since we have all read further in the story of Acts, not to mention through Paul’s letters, and we know that the ultimate result was that the Gospel would go to places it might not otherwise have been, and that letters were written that are now part of the Scriptures, that might not have otherwise been written.  Try to step back from all of that and ask yourself a question: If the Holy Spirit was leading Paul to Jerusalem, then why was the Holy Spirit warning him not to go there?

At this point in the story, in spite of all the nice little “Sunday school” answers we have heard over the years, there really is no way for us to know; perhaps Luke will give us some clues in the chapters that follow… or perhaps Paul was making a big mistake, and God used him to spread the Gospel anyway…

One thing however is certain, Paul’s companions finally gave up trying to talk him out of the trip, and left everything to God’s will, for they were willing, when all was said and done, to place their faith in God.

I would suggest that this is a pretty good lesson for us to learn as well.

 

 

A Sober Farewell, part 4

 

 

“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ 

Acts 20:32-35

With these words, Paul concludes his farewell to the elders of Ephesus. By committing them to God and “the word of his grace”, Paul is reminding them that it is only through their relationship with God and the truth of His gospel that they will grow and prosper spiritually and thus be sustained through the challenges they will face. So it is with us today…

Then he turns to an area of temptation that cannot be avoided for those who find themselves in a position of leadership; he reminds them of the fact that at no time over the past three years has Paul of his companions ever asked for any enrichment financially. Rather, he reminds them that it was by the work of his own hands that all of his party was sustained. Notice that he says that it is by “hard work” that they help the weak. In this, Paul is not referring to those who are poor or disadvantaged in monetary terms, but rather it was the elders themselves who were the “weak” ones, for this is not a monetary admonition as much as it is a spiritual one. In fact, the really interesting, and frankly significant aspect of this admonition is that it was by his hard work to pay his way that he supplied the spiritual needs of his (spiritually) weak brothers, for he took the earthly element of money completely out of the picture by hard work.

I mention this because it is entirely counter-intuitive for most of us today, for so great is our attention to money and material things. Once again, notice that throughout the entire farewell, Paul’s emphasis has been entirely on spiritual concerns, and not those of this world.

Luke ends the section in vv. 36-38 with their last tearful moments together, and then Paul heads for his ship, never again to see these dear ones. Luke picks up in chapter 21 with Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, where a whole new set of adventures await his arrival.