Do my inabilities get in the way of my ability?

Do my inabilities get in the way of my ability to do God’s will? 

That is a question I stumbled upon today in a book of devotions.  You’ve got to admit, that’s pretty deep.  So deep, in fact, that we have to resort to our highschool english training and “break it down” as the kids would say (that is if the kids were in the 1980’s).

Part 1. Do I have inabilities?  Duh! I excel in my ability to recognize my inabilities.  I can play the whole, “if only…” game all day.  If only I was wealthier, if only I was better educated, if only I was younger, if only… you get the drift.

Part 2. Get in the way of my ability?  Again, yes.  that is evident in the definition of what an inability is, right?

Part 3. to do God’s will?  OK, that is like throwing out a trump card all of a sudden – hearts trump clubs, or something like that.  If it is God’s will that I am supposed to be doing then all of a sudden things get turned upside down. 

So if it is God’s will, the plan that he has specifically for me that He wants and expects me to do, then does my ability matter at all?  Time and again, through biblical stories He points out that the answer is no.  10,000 men, no that’s way too many… send more away, so you may know the victory is mine.   185,000 Assyrians killed in a single night while camped outside the walls of the city.  And dozens more.

My mind started going all manner of direction then.  Maybe God is just having an off-day and didn’t plan accordingly to give me the right abilities for His plan for me today.  Maybe he has me and my talents mistaken with someone else (Moses even tried pulling that one. – “Aaron is more eloquent”)  Maybe God just doesn’t understand the level of ability that is required.

Obviously, none of that mkes any sense.  If it is God’s will for me to do, then He not only knows, but equips, enables, and whatever else.  My job isn’t even to ask him for the things I think I need, to pray all those petitions I get so busy preparing sometimes.  Instead, my only job is to ask that His will be done, through me, today. 

Now that is starting to sound a whole lot like a daily prayer someone might teach us:  Our Father… thy will be done.  Sometimes it stops and makes you think about the words that come out of your mouth when we quote Jesus and just how wise they really are!

God is not a pinata

Seriously.  Google the title of this post – this has to be the only one on the entire world wide web, right?  Wrong!  I checked, believe it or not, there are dozens if not hundreds.

I guess then I am not alone in my struggles and the responses I too often take.  But, let me digress with a little background information.  It is Labor Day.  We had family over, including little nieces and nephews.  My mother-in-law brought a pinata for the kids (of all ages, of course).  It was one of the pull-string variety, which is great since I often end up holding it and don’t really enjoy getting whacked by a stick, if you know what I mean!  Everyone pulled the strings, candy flowed out, all is good.

But it made me think about how often I treat God like a big pinata.  Maybe, if I pull the right string, blessings will flow down on me and I will be healthy, wealthy and wise, not to mention fit into the clothes I wore in high school.

But God isn’t the pinata, he is the dad holding it.  Just like the dad, in this case my brother-in-law, who sat patiently spoon in hand feeding his baby and wiping up all the messes that the baby made.  Or for that matter like the loving mother who sweeps up a little one moments before they catch a finger in the door or tumble down the stairs and gives them a big hug.

I need to remind myself that the pinata isn’t the thing to be desired or chase after, it is the fact that someone loves us enough to want to give that to us and so much more.  The real gift is the love, the rest is just candy.

How could you say no?

I heard a new song today.  I guess it isn’t really new, but it was new to me.  It is a song written by Billy Sprague who was a christian singer in the 1980’s called, “How could you say no to this man?”.  So much of the “christian music” today is 7-11 music (7 words repeated 11 times).  Don’t get me wrong, I think that all praise music has its place and I enjoy getting lost in it sometimes.  But, I also appreciate the songs that are so deep that they make you stop and think.

Many of the old hymns are this way.  Granted they have their share of Thou’s and Thee’s (or should it be Thee’s and Thou’s?), but the words take you deeper and, when you stop to pay attention to what they are saying, they cause you to look at things a different way.  A mighty fortress is our God.  Onward christian soldiers. Peace like a river. I walk through the garden alone. There are so many…

This song of the Jesus Movement era is one that has those kind of words, that stop you in your tracks and make you want to give thanks.

Here are the lyrics:

Thorns on his head spear in his side
Yet it was a heartache that made him cry
He gave his life so you would understand
Is there any way you could say no to this man

If Christ himself were standing here
Face full of glory and eyes full of tears
And he held out his arms and his nail printed hands
Is there any way you could say no to this man

How could you look in his tear stained eyes
Knowing it’s you he’s thinking of
Could you tell him you’re not ready to give him your life
Could you say you don’t think you need his love

Jesus is here with his arms open wide
You can see him with your heart if you’ll stop looking with your eyes
He’s left it up to you, he’s done all that he can
Is there any way you could say no to this man

How could you look in his tear stained eyes
Knowing it’s you he’s thinking of
Could you tell him you’re not ready to give him your life
Could you say you don’t think you need his love

Thorns on his head your life in his hands
Is there any way you could say no to this man
Is there any way you could say no to this man

Dr. Luke and the Ladies

BSF started as a bible study for women by a woman.  Those of us attending today, including the men and children in the study, are grateful for the way God moved in the life of A. Wetherell Johnson to organize the study.

This is important to keep in mind when reading Luke particularly as we see the characters that Luke discusses.  Women play a very prominent role throughout the book.  In fact there are 13 women mentioned in the book of Acts who do not appear anywhere else in the bible.  Luke is also the one to mention that the first European convert to christianity was, in fact, a woman, Lydia.

Clearly Luke was a quick learner.  While it may have not been the norm in his day to elevate women in society, he observed Christ doing it over and over again.  The woman at the well, Mary and Martha, etc., etc.  Jesus did not come to deliver a message to men, he came to save all mankind (and women-kind).  Luke listened, observed, learned and did likewise.

Ladies prayed and played a prominent role in the early church as they do today.  I’m one of the many men who can state that my wife began attending a bible study and encouraged me.  Thank God for the ladies!

Figures of speech

As we study the book of Acts this year, an interesting aspect to watch for and pay attention to are the speeches.  Luke doesn’t just observe and explain what is going on, he extensively quotes a wide variety of speakers to document the history, context and message of the early church.  There are approximately 24 speeches recorded which comprise over 30% of the total book.  These are not summaries, but quotes of the words said. 

Why is this important?  I think paying careful attention to the voice of the people recorded in Acts will provide great insight and perspective.  But, most importantly, I believe it emphasizes the the message of the good news of Jesus Chris is “the message.”  It is not a set of rules.  It is not an act of obedience such as circumcision of wearing of certain prayer boxes of articles of clothing.  It is not a strict memorization and recitation.  It is the same message being delivered over and over again, by numerous men and women to strengthen each other, defend the faith from attack, demonstrate devotation and dedication in the face of persecution and, most importantly, to deliver the message to those who had not heard or did not yet believe.

The message of the speeches is the message of God’s love and redemption through Christ.

Who is your Theophilus?

The Apostle Luke authors 2 books in the bible: the book of Luke and the book of Acts.  Both he addresses to Theophilus.  In Luke 1:3 he states, “it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus” and in Acts 1:1 he writes, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.”

I became curious, who is this Theophilus dude? The name only appears twice in the bible, in these 2 verses.  There is no clue or indication of the actual persona of this individual or even whether it is a real name, a nick name or a descriptive name.  As BSF would say, “answers may vary,” and scholars have as many opinions as there are options.

So I fell back to my experience of the scriptures.  What I have found and believe is that when a specific fact or name is presented in the bible, it is there for a reason.  When further information to specify the fact or name is not disclosed it is because that is not relevant.  So why is this name here?

Strong’s Greek translates the name into 2 parts: Theo, Strong 2316 (Theo), God, the Creator and owner of all thing  and Philus, Strong 5384 (phílos), expresses experience-based love.  So the name literally means someone who loves God, with an expressed, experience based love, as one who knows and shares the love of God because of a personal relationship with Him.

This struck me because of the quote I so vividly remember of Dr. Chuck Mesfeldt at the BSF conference in Denver a few years ago.  Chuck took the podium and, I remember it so clearly to this day, said, my name is Chuck Mesfeldt, I love Jesus and I love BSF.  Clearly, this is not an introduction you hear most men state today, but what a wonderful statement and succinct testimony!

To me, the emphasis becomes less whether Luke’s Theophilus was a specific person, group, pseudonym, or some other fundamental explanation.  What is more important to Luke and to us is that he had a Theophilus in his life to write to.  He had a Theophilus to share his faith, his love, his observations, his joy, his fears and his uncertainty.  What a blessing it must have been to Luke.

How amazing our lives and our world would become if we Christians introduces ourselves: My name is _____________ and I love God.

As you read this, I encourage you to give it a try.  I’m doing it.  It still feels strange, but I like it.  I love it.  At our first BSF meeting I tried it when I introduced myself.  I encourage you to try it to.  What an amazing and changed world this would be if we become each others Theophilus!!!

Divinely Structured and Unfinished

I continued and concluded meditation on the commentary of Acts by Ray Stedman.  I found three insights in the last half of his commentary that I think will be a major influence in my study of the book of Acts this year.

  1. The organization of the book.  In Acts 1:8 the scripture says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  As you follow through Acts we find that this is not only a statement of fact, but it is also a divine, geographical organization of the book.  Chapters 1 through 7 take place largely in Jerusalem.  Chapter 7 concludes with the martyrdom of Stephen and in Chapter 8 we find Phillip preaching in Samaria to crowds with great joy.  Chapter 13 opens with the call of Paul and Barnabas to travel out into the Gentile world.
  2. Watch for the essential. Stedman reminds us to maintain a focus on the essential and not just the incidental.  For example, in the discussion of Pentacost, christians and churches often focus on the incidental or peripheral events.  As Stedman says, “The rushing wind, the fire that danced on the heads of the disciples, and the many tongues or languages by which they spoke. These are the incidentals of the story. These are simply the peripheral events that took place, the signs that showed that something important was happening.”  We must maintain focus on the essential tenant of this story, “What was the essential, then, the important thing? It was the forming of a new people—the church. One hundred and twenty individuals met in the temple courts. They were as unrelated to each other as any people born in widely scattered parts of the earth might be to each other today. They were individually related to the Lord, but they had no blood ties. When the Holy Spirit was poured out on them, he baptized them into one body. They became a living unit; they were no longer related only to the Lord; they were related also to each other.”
  3. That’s not all, folks!  Finally, Stedman’s commentary turns to the ending of the book of Acts, or more appropriately the lack thereof.  The final verses of Acts 28 read like much of the rest of the book, as Luke tells us about what Paul is doing in Rome, chained to a guard day and night under house arrest.  We turn the page, but that’s it.  Luke leaves it as an unfinished story.  This is because the Acts of the Holy Spirit in forming the church and spreading the joy of salvation was not complete.  The spirit continues to act in our time, in our lives and through the disciples today.  There is no “the end” because the return of Christ is yet to come and the work of the Church is unfinished.