Friday, 30 November 2007

Justified freely

“being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” - Romans 3v24

I don’t know if there could be any more amazing phrase in the word of God than these two words – “justified freely.” In the first part of Romans 3 Paul lays out all the reasons why justification must be free. I don’t want to list them all, but some examples:

None righteous

No one understands

No one seeks after God

All turned aside

All unprofitable

No one does good

And then he gets into the heavy stuff (verses 14-18).

With a list like this what hope could a man possibly have? This passage makes man sound like he is really, really bad. Why would it do that? Well, because man is really, really bad.

Man is so bad that no man can DO anything about it. Every deed of man, every religious act, every best effort falls short. As Paul points out a couple of verses earlier only faith in Christ can do what no work can do.

Therefore we come up with the words, “justified freely.” A simple way to put it is that we are brought into line with God’s standards freely. Well, at least freely to us. The cost was great, but it was paid by Christ. Therefore the cost to really, really bad man is nothing – it is free.

Praise God for “justified freely!”

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Is God unjust?

“But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.) Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?” - Romans 3v5-6

One of the great questions of all history is over the “fairness” of God. Too often the terms are misused – life itself is not fair. What we really need to ask is “Is God just?”

Paul is and amazing theologian. He knew that he had to address the concerns of the Jews and the detractors who said that this new sect gave a licence to sin.

Here is the argument in a nutshell. God gave the Law to reveal man’s unrighteousness. It accomplished its purpose – there is no doubt that no one can keep the Law. Man’s unrighteousness is made more manifest by God’s righteousness and vice versa. There is no common ground between our unrighteousness and God’s righteousness.

Is it therefore unjust that a righteous God must deal with unrighteousness? God is the only One Who is capable of judging the world. The next step in Paul’s argument is to prove just how unrighteous man is, but for now it is a simple fact that unrighteousness must be judged by a holy, righteous God.

This is all building to a wonderful, amazing truth. Is God unjust in dealing with sin? Of course not, otherwise what basis would He have for judgement?

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Circumcision of the heart

“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” - Romans 2v28-29

Circumcision was a biggie for the Jews. It was THE test of being a true Jew. As the centuries went on that became the mark that was above everything else. Gentiles were referred to as “uncircumcised dogs” there was no more harsh term of contempt.

Eventually this became a source of pride. Something, “Hey, don’t criticise me, I am circumcised!” like that was all that mattered. However, Paul made it clear that the physical circumcision they were so proud of really was meaningless unless it was accompanied by circumcision of the heart.

Religion is far too often externalised were it should be clear that it must be internalised instead. Physical circumcision is something that must be carried out by a man. Circumcision of the heart can only be carried out by the Spirit.

What is our lesson from this Old Testament principle applied to the Jews? Simple enough – it is very possible to get everything right on the outside. We can easily accomplish a “do this don’t do that” tick list. However, unless our heart is right, unless the Holy Spirit has done His work inside then all the outward do’s and don’ts are meaningless.

We may look good on the outside, but how is our heart circumcision?

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Making your boast in God

“Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God,” - Romans 2v17

Paul went all out to convince his readers that the old distinction of Jew and Gentile was now broken. The Jews were very proud of the fact that they were Jews and law-keepers. The boasted and bragged that they were the ones close to God because they kept the law and it was a part of their lives.

They had a huge problem though. In their arrogance they were teaching others while not applying the teaching to themselves. They were saying, because they were after all Jews and the law was important to them, “Do as I say not as I do.” Jesus had redefined the law. It was not longer enough to avoid physical adultery, now adultery of the eyes was wrong. It was no longer good enough to not kill – hatred was condemned.

These guys rested in their laurels and bragged about how godly they were while at the same time carrying on with their own sins.

It is so much easier to see and condemn the sin of others, while talking about how good we are and ignoring our own.

Monday, 26 November 2007

No partiality with God

“For there is no partiality with God.” - Romans 2v11

When I hear first hear the words, “There is no partiality with God” I usually take it as comforting and encouraging. After all, what a blessing to know that God sees us all the same and that no better is any better or more privileged than me in God’s sight.

However that is not the context of Romans 2v11. The context is that the harsh judgemental spirit in the first few verses of Romans 2 is the same as the wickedness of the end of Romans 1. The impenitent heart of Romans 2 is no better or worse than the lustful heart of Romans 1. The self-seeking of Romans 2 is no better or worse than the vile passions of Romans 1.

Why is it that we can all recall message after message on the sins of Romans 1 and very few if any on the sins of Romans 2? Can it really be true that the kind of arrogant, prideful, judgemental Galatian Pharaseeism of Romans 2 is just as bad as the vile sexual immorality and other wickedness of Romans 1?

Look at this from verse 5 – “you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,”

We all know that works are the indication of salvation. We read in Romans 2 that God rewards every man according to his deeds, not in the context of the wickedness of Romans 1 but the judgemental spirit of Romans 2.

I fear that it is much easier to talk the lostness of those involved in homosexuality of Romans 1 than these words from Romans 2: And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who "WILL RENDER TO EACH ONE ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS":

At the end of the day we still need to deal with the words, “There is no partiality with God”

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Despising the riches of His goodness

“Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” - Romans 2v4

When we read Romans chapter one we can feel very comfortable about ourselves. It is all about a world gone mad which has rejected the God Who revealed Himself to them and the downward spiral of sin which they had exposed themselves. We get the end and we think, “Boy, those folks really deserved it didn’t they?”

As chapter two opens, and remember there were no chapter divisions in Paul’s letter we see a total change of focus. Suddenly Paul says, “There is no excuse for you to be judging others!” He they went on to tell them that there pious, self-righteous attitude was as bad as anything they condemned others for.

He then made an interesting comment. With a rhetorical question he pointed out that after all that mercy that God has shown, that He offered salvation to a wicked, vile world that has rejected Him, they still chose to sit in judgement on others. There were so caught up in condemnation that they forgot about, even despised God’s goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering. They had forgotten that it was God’s goodness, nit His wrath and anger that leads to repentance.

We often wonder how the world can be so bad. We are quick to judge and condemn them. When our oldest was five, but a very mature five, my wife told him in frustration on day, “Would you stop acting like you are five years old!”

Funny, right? Of course, but then we walk around in frustration with the world around us, saying in out hearts, “Would you stop acting like the world?”

I realise that I am no Bible scholar, much less a language scholar, but this verse clearly says that it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance. Might we consider showing people the goodness of God what leads to repentance instead of just trying to scare them out of hell?

Saturday, 24 November 2007

From faith to faith

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." Romans 1v16-17


There is so much in the book of Romans that it is difficult to know what to do in this type of reading. Even here in verses 16-17 there are plenty of valuable lessons.

The need not to be ashamed of the gospel

The gospel is the power of God to salvation

The gospel is for everyone who believes

The gospel breaks down old barriers

The gospel is where the righteousness of God is found

The gospel is revealed from faith to faith

The just shall live by faith

For me, out of all this, the thing that sticks out is the phrase – “From faith to faith.” There are a lot of theological debates about what this means, but I think the simple lesson is the best. How is the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel? How does the power pass on? How does it apply to both Jews and Gentiles alike? Simple – it passed on from faith to faith. One day someone shared their faith with me. I share my faith with others. This has been from the time of Christ to today and will be the story forever more.

I think that’s why Paul made it so clear that he was not ashamed of the gospel. He was not ashamed of the gospel because his shame would keep him from sharing his faith with others.

How about you and me? Does our shame keep our own faith from going to others – from faith to faith?

Friday, 23 November 2007

Encouraged together

“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” - Romans 1v11-12

Sometimes we can get the impression that it is up the pastor or the spiritual leader to be the one who does all the encouraging. Surely, we are tempted to think, the average Joe or Jane in the pew can’t have anything to offer.

As Paul wrote to Rome he said that he hoped that we would be able to come and give the church them some kind of spiritual gift, but he went on to explain, “That I may be encouraged together with you.” He went on to say what would accomplish that – “The mutual faith both of you and me.”

In the church everyone has something to contribute. We are all together to be encouraging each other with our mutual faith. The Lord does provide leaders and teachers to carry out the “formal” teaching, but that’s not where it ends.

Our church has a sharing time in our service where everyone shares answers to prayer and blessings for the week. There have been times, especially when I have been preaching, then that is my highlight of the week. I love the encouragement of mutual faith.

Let us never think that we have nothing to contribute. The sharing of our mutual faith may be exactly what someone else needs to hear.

Oh the wonderful joys of our mutual faith!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

First, I thank my God …for you all

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” - Romans 1v8

What a great message for this American Thanksgiving Day. Paul had a lot to say to the church at Rome. He had a lot to deal with. But right after his greetings he said, “First, I thank God for you.”

We have a lot to be thankful for, more than we could list. The American Christian Thanksgiving tradition is to have a time of giving thanks during Thanksgiving week. It is always a blessing to hear what God has done everyone.

My heart was challenged my Paul’s words this morning. The very first thing he did in this lengthy letter was to express thanks for the people and for their testimony. Their faith was known all over the world and Paul was thankful for that as will.

Thank God for each other. Let’s consider today the great opportunity to give thanks for the blessing of fellow saints, fellow soldiers, and fellow servants. May we have the faith that is know the world over.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Obedience to the faith

“Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name,” - Romans 1v5

“O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E…obedience is the very best way to show that you believe.” The children in our Kids Klub have always loved to sing that song. The problem is that sometimes adults can see that only as a kid’s song and forget its relevance for adults.

As Paul wrote to the church at Rome he went through an introduction explaining who is was, what God had done in Him, and what he was doing. Here he says that God gave him grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith.

I think there is a lot said in just a few words. First of all Paul says that he has the grace and the “sent-out-ness” to go into all the nations and proclaim the necessity of obedience to the gospel. Obedience to the faith is the only way for salvation. Men must obey God’s way, by putting their faith in Christ, in order to be saved. Secondly, it is an act of obedience on our part to act in faith and carry His word to all nations. Thirdly, it certainly appears that true faith is going to produce obedience to the faith in our lives.

We might do well to consider the words of that “children’s” song for indeed; obedience is the very best way to show that we believe.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

A bondservant

“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God.” - Romans 1v1

I was reading a debate recently about the terms ‘missionary” and “evangelist.” The discussion was over the biblical role of evangelist and whether or not we should use the title “missionary.” Who are the missionaries, who are the evangelists, and who are the revivalists?

We also hear much about those who are concerned about being “Dr This” and “Pastor That” often insisting that people call them by their proper title. Some include and alphabet soup of letters after their names. There seems to be a need to let everyone know how qualified we are to make our point of view.

There were a couple of times when Paul referred to his qualifications, but here in the very first live of the very first letter as we have it in our New Testament is one simple title.

Paul did not say “Dr Paul,” though he was well qualified to do so. He didn’t call himself Pastor Paul. He did call himself “an apostle of Jesus Christ” to evidence that he was one “sent out” but Christ.

However, everything else was built on one title – bondservant, doulos, slave. Wow, what title for the one we often call “The Greatest Missionary Who Ever Lived.” He saw himself as a servant first and foremost. I wonder what we could do for the Lord if our first thought about ourselves was “bondservant”?

Monday, 19 November 2007

The Paul dwelt two years…preaching

“Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” - Act 28v30-31

Praise God for His sovereign hand. After all the trouble – the arrests, the beatings, the imprisonments, the storm, the shipwreck, and the snakebite Paul was finally in Rome. It seems like, for a man being detained, he did not have it too bad. He lived in a rented house with only one guard and people came and went as they wished. And while he was there he did something – he preached and he taught with confidence and without restriction. The gospel was faithfully preached in Rome, possibly the most powerful city in human history.

As a result Europe would be changed and millions would be saved. The Roman roads and the widespread use of Greek would allow God’s word to spread quickly throughout the known world. Christian thought would permeate the western world. This little statement has a massive impact that Paul could never have imagined.

How did this happen? One man, convinced that God has a task for him to do, would not be dissuaded, he would not quit.

How much can one man do? As much as the omnipotent God will allow him to do. May we have Paul’s attitude to serve God and sing with the old spiritual – “I will not be moved.”

Sunday, 18 November 2007

It is spoken against everywhere

“But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere." - Act 28v22

In this little church plant I have often wondered over the years what a little tiny church, in a county town in Ireland, could have so much opposition and so many problems. We have seen people come and go and then speak poorly of the work.

And the bad thing is that is only a tiny example of what it can be like. While most of the world has more or less agreed to put up with us, in many parts of the world the church faces massive opposition. I watched a series of videos not too long ago about the church in Vietnam. Everything they do is done in secret and every day they face arrest and persecution.. In China and the Muslim countries the church is driven underground because of the persecution.

Why is it? Why does this happen? These same questions had reached Rome and God used that to allow Paul to preach the gospel. The leaders were wondering what it was about this group that made others hate them so much.

We should be grateful about the freedoms God gives us in most of the world, but we need to take care that we don’t “fit in” too well. If we ever get to the point where we fit in, how is the world going to see the difference?

Saturday, 17 November 2007

When Paul saw them

"And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.” - Act 28v15

I like other places.. I may not like getting there, but I do like learning about other places. I like seeing the tourist areas, I like seeing everyday life, and I like trying other foods. What I really enjoy though is when I can meet with local Christians. There is always a blessing in such meetings and fellowship.

As we know by now Paul had not had a pleasant journey. As they finally journeyed the last mile up the famous Appian Way the Christians of the area heard of His approach. It is amazing even that there were Christians here before Paul got there “officially.” God’s word has an amazing power. There were Christians in at least two places – Appii Forum and The Three Taverns. They were already aware of who Paul was and the cam out to meet him.

Think about how Paul must have felt. He had a terrible journey, he has been in a storm, been hungry, been in a shipwreck, and bitten by a snake. He saw believers coming to greet him. No wonder the scripture records that he “thanked God and took courage.”

What an amazing joy to see believers in other places. It reminds us of the immenseness and universality of the family of God. As these Christians encouraged Paul on his travels may we always be looking for the opportunity to encourage our family wherever and whenever we meet.

Friday, 16 November 2007

They were all encouraged

“And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat. Then they were all encouraged, and also took food themselves.” - Act 27v35-36

What do we as believers do when there is a crisis all around us? Why is it that we normally step back and let the world deal with it? We think they have all the resources and all the wisdom to deal with it and we have nothing. This wasn’t true in days of old. The Christians of old were normally the first on the scene shaking the salt and shining the light.

Paul set the example during this awful storm at sea. It became obvious that the ship was going down. Someone had to take a leadership role. Judging from what we know of his personality, I don’t think that was too hard for Paul. He seemed to just take charge of the situation. “Its been two weeks since you guys have had a meal. The ship is about to be wrecked. Have a meal and get ready, you are going to need your strength.” The Paul took bread, broke it, gave thanks, took a bite, and invited everyone to eat. The result? Everyone else was encouraged and ate as well.

Why do we hide in the shadows? Why are we afraid to step forward? We are as qualified as anyone else to take a leadership role in times of trouble. And guess what? At the end of the day we have so much more to offer than just a solution to the present crisis – we have an answer for eternity as well. Doesn’t it make sense that if we have the answer to the present crisis we might very well be able to help out with eternal issues?

Thursday, 15 November 2007

You must be brought before Caesar

“But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, "Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.'” - Acts 27v21-24

Wow! What an adventuresome trip Pail and his team had going to Rome. It was not the nice quiet sailing trip you might have expected God to provide to get His man to Europe to share the gospel.

It was a mess. The sailing was not easy. Adverse seas kept them virtually dead in the water for a time, Paul advised them to winter in Fair Havens but the sailors thought they could make it to Phoenix, a better place to spend the winter. These set sail to make their way there but the then the dreaded Euroclydon struck. Bible scholars debate exactly what this was, but reading the chapter we know that it was a really, really bad storm. The crew and passengers did all they could – they threw stuff overboard, tried to tie the ship together, and just let it drive in the wind. Many days passed without seeing the sun or the stars. They could not eat for the storm. All hope appeared to be gone.

Then Paul stepped forward. “You should have listened to me the first time, but don’t worry. God told me that we are going to lose the ship, but not one life will be lost because you need to get to Caesar.” God graciously permitted the rest of the crew and passengers to be spared.

God had a purpose for Paul. He had to get to Rome. Not even this massive storm could stop it because God was in control. Could God have stopped the storm completely? Of course He could, but He had lessons to teach.

We may not always know the end like Paul did, but we can be assured that no matter how bad the storms may seem God is always in control and He is going to accomplish His purpose.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007


“Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You almost persuade me to become a Christian.’" - Acts 26v28

Almost. How sad and tragic can one little word be? In this case it may have meant an eternal difference.

God had allowed Paul to tell his whole story in the court of Agrippa. He was bold enough that he addressed both Agrippa and Festus personally. Although they may hot have agreed with what he said, the both agreed that is Paul had not appealed to Caesar he could have gone free. Little did they know that there was greater purpose at hand. But, back to “almost.”

At one stage of the conversation Agrippa told Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” We will leave the debate about how much we do and how much the Holy Spirit does for the true Bible scholars to discuss, but our point is this – Paul had done all he could. The amazing thing is that “all” he had done was tell about his own salvation and the impact it had. It is obvious that he had a job to do and the Holy Spirit did the rest.

We don’t know what happened to Agrippa’s soul. Perhaps he was saved later. We do know this – Paul was faithful in proclaiming the gospel. Through his proclamation of God’s word Agrippa came to the point where he had to make a decision. Sadly, perhaps tragically, Agrippa said, “almost.”

I was challenged by this. How often do I even bring a person to the point where they have the chance to say, “Almost?” I am not responsible for a change of heart, but I should be always ready to get folks to the point where they can at least say, “Almost.” If not, am I really doing my part?

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Works befitting repentance

“[I] declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.” - Act 26v20

What is the relation between salvation, repentance, and works? This debate has raged and Christians have been involved in ugly fights over it. I don’t really think we need a deep theological debate, but Paul seems to make it pretty simple when he explained to Agrippa his message.

“I told the Jews and the Gentiles that they should repent, turn to God, and do works that are worthy of there repentance.” When it is that simple why do we pick silly fights over the precise instant when repentance, salvation, and good works fall into place?

This much is clear. True salvation is going to involve repentance and turning to God and it will always be reflected in doing works that reflect, or befit salvation. We can’t get out of the good works aspect. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus that God ordained before the foundation of the world that those who are saved would walk in good works. James wrote that faith with does not produce good works is dead faith.

Rather that squabble over the details would we not do better to simply ask ourselves if our works truly “befit repentance”?

Monday, 12 November 2007

From darkness to light

“I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.'“ - Act 26v17-18

I don’t think there can be a better example of how to share out faith than Paul. God gave him many opportunities and he didn’t fail. Something about his message intrigued the people he talked to.

Here he is sitting before King Herod Agrippa II – referred to as “King of the Jews” even though he was a regional king. He was accompanied by his sister Bernice who was also his consort. They entered the room with “great pomp” and of course all of the petty officials were there as well.

God gave Paul a marvellous opportunity when Agrippa basically told him, “Tell us your story.” Perhaps he was sincere; perhaps they were going to make fun of him. It made no difference to Paul. He told his life story and got right to the point of telling them how it got saved.

If that wasn’t clear enough, he told them what his commission was and in that the gospel was so clear that Agrippa and Co. would either take it or leave it. Paul’s commission to “turn the people from darkness to light and from Satan’s power to God.”

He then made it clear how that was to happen – forgiveness in sin and the godly inheritance only comes by faith in Christ. Now we all know that message, but Paul was laying it all out for the king,

Paul apparently never missed a chance to share the glorious gospel. Why are we cowed from doing the same?

Sunday, 11 November 2007

A more convenient time

“Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, ‘Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.’" - Act 24v25

Governor Felix must have been intrigued by Paul’s message. After he put Paul under house arrest and after his wife, Drusilla, arrived he called for Paul in order to hear more about faith in Christ.

Paul did not mince words. He spoke of righteousness, self-control, and judgement to come. It doesn’t look like this is what Felix wanted to hear for he sent Paul away with some tragic word, “I will hear more at a more convenient time.”

Before Felix could comprehend the love of God for Him He had to know about why that love was so important. Unrighteousness and lack of self-control are going to result in judgement to come because God is perfect and perfectly holy. He is perfectly righteous and perfectly just. Man’s sin runs totally contrary to that. Man has replaced perfect God control which always sees that is best with imperfect flesh control which is always destructive.

There were more occasions were Paul and Felix talked, but there is no further mention of how the chats went.

Poor Felix sacrificed knowing the God of all-love for the sake of His own convenience. Some will do the same today. They have been putting off dealing with God for the sake of convenience, how tragic if they miss a chance to know Him because it was inconvenient.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

A conscience without offence

“This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.” - Act 24v16

Paul was finally where he needed to be. He had a chance to speak before Felix – the governor of Judea. The Jews had presented their case. For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, and we seized him, and wanted to judge him according to our law.”

It is obvious that they were out to get Paul. They admitted straight up that Paul was not guilty of breaking any Roman laws, but they wanted to deal with him in their own way for breaking their religious laws.

According to Josephus Felix was not exactly the most honest local leader. He was in a particularly difficult situation. He was a Greek born freedman, serving the Roman government in occupied Palestine. He decided to let both sides tell their story, so he allowed Paul to speak.

Paul said that he was not guilty of the charges of causing division or defiling the temple. He did however admit to one thing, “I am a member of the Way, which they call a cult.” He could not ignore or deny his faith. Even before this government official he took to opportunity to share his faith.

That being said, I was challenged by what Paul said was his goal, “I want to have a conscience that is without offence toward both God and man.” What a noble goal for all of us. We should strive to not only not offend God, but we should also strive not to offend men. As much as possible we must try not to offend others while we keep ourselves from offending God.

Friday, 9 November 2007


Just after posting the blog today the story hit home in a very real way when I received a letter in the post.

A little background is needed. In 1998 while visiting a hospital in Alabama I happened across a high school classmate in the lift. We caught up a bit and he was interested in our ministry. Eventually he began to support us financially.

In 2002 when the ministry here seemingly collapsed a lot of negative things happened and my response to them was sometimes, shall we say, not the best. One of the events was this friend dropping our support for one which was having more success. I was a little "put out" as we say because, in retrospect, this was just another in a series of bad things happening. I wrote and told him that I understood, because that was the right thing to do.

Fast forward five years today. The letter mentioned above arrived in the post. I didn't have a clue why he would be writing after all this time. As I read it I was moved to tears. Let me include a couple of highlights.

"I still receive your newsletter and we continue to pray for you. I am really glad to see how the Lord continues to bless your ministry and to see it grow."

"[Wife's name] and I finally found our way to the cross, surprise. Even a sinner like me can be saved by the has been beautiful."

"Roger, I guess I just wanted to write and say thank you for not giving up on me. For you see by continuing to receive your newsletters I had another link to Jesus and I feel that by seeing your ministry grow I was encouraged to carry on, plus it gave me another reason to be closer to Him. So, "Thank you."

Did I think God knew what He was doing in 2002? At the time - I am afraid not. But God had a purpose in mine. It was not Rome, but it played a part in brining an old friend to Christ!

Praise the Holy Eternal Lamb of God to Whom be glory forever and ever.

On to Rome

“But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.’"

- Act 23v11

Surely Paul must have wondered if those who had advised him not to go to Jerusalem were right. Since he had been there he had been talked into trying to appease some legalist, had been attacked by a mob, arrested, and on the verge of being beaten. He had been forced to play his trump card and use his Roman citizenship to avoid more beatings. He had been brought to a religious council of religious leaders and seen them break into a row over the resurrection. From there he had been taken back to the soldier’s barracks for protection.

After all this happened the Lord appeared to Paul to explain what was going on. “Cheer up Paul,” the Lord said, “just like you have testified here you are going to testify of me in Rome.”

What a turning point in history. Of course history centres on the cross, but this must be #2. The gospel was just about to go to Europe. It would change the face of the entire globe. It would impact everything from legal systems, to the arts, to the calendar the world would use.

All of this was peripheral however. The important thing is that the saving gospel of Jesus Christ was about to go to the population centre of the west. There has probably not been a city with the import of Rome before or since. God knew exactly what He was doing in all this. What could not have looked more confused was just perfect in God’s eyes. God was going to allow Paul to carry the gospel – to ROME!

Next time you can’t figure out what is going on stop trying to figure it out – remember how God got the gospel to Europe!

Thursday, 8 November 2007

God’s ways of protection

“And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?’" - Act 22v25

I think it is wonderful to see how God protects His people. Sometimes God steps in with a dramatic, miraculous, or amazing event. For example Paul was once freed from prison by an earthquake, Lot was delivered by a blinding light, and Moses and Israel were delivered by the Red Sea being parted.

Sometimes however God work in a very practical and “normal” way. In Jerusalem things were looking pretty bad for Paul. He was under arrest again was facing another beating to try and get him to answer some unsubstantiated charges against. They officials thought that anybody causing this much trouble must have done something wrong.

Just before the beatings started Paul asked - “Is it legal for you to beat a Roman citizen who has not been convicted?” Suddenly a hush fell over the place. Not only was it illegal to beat a Roman but those guilty could be executed themselves. From that point on Paul was treated kid’s gloves, for not only was he a Roman citizen, but he was one by birth.

God had a greater purpose in mind for Paul. He was not done with Paul yet. Long before this day God allowed Paul to be born as a Jewish citizen of Rome. It is not totally clear where Paul was born, but wherever it was it was a Roman controlled area where he was what we would today call a “natural born citizen” with all the inherent rights and privileges.

All the time Paul was attacking and persecuting Christians his Roman citizenship was there. Who would have guessed that such an insignificant event as where a baby was born would have such an impact on the world? Praise God for His oversight and sovereignty!

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The failure of appeasement

“Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.” - Act 21v24

In the years preceding World War II nearly everything was done to try and satisfy Hitler. Neville Chamberlain was excited that by just giving up a little bit they had achieved “Peace in our time.” We all know the tragic results.

Appeasement was a part of the plans of the early church. We tend to thing because they were the early church they did everything right. When Paul came back to Jerusalem he found that the legalism fight was still raging. Rumours abounded that Paul was not only teaching that Gentiles did not need to keep the law, but that he was preaching against the law itself. In order to try and prove them wrong the church leaders suggested that Paul take four men and observe a ritual Jewish purification. Paul agreed and followed through.

As he and the men returned they were set upon by the crowd. Their efforts to appease the crowd had failed and the crowd set upon them, only to be rescued by the officials. Appeasement did nothing because Paul’s teaching was not the problem – it was the hearts of his accusers.

What does this mean for us today? There are all kinds pf pressures on us to day to conform to other’s standards and their opinions about how we should behave, the translation we should use, the music styles we should listen to, or the personal standards we should observe. While we must be very careful about offending and causing others to stumble, and while we should do all we can to avoid such offence, we err when we choose to appease just for the sake of appeasement. We must examine our choices in the light of God’s word. We must do all we can not to offend, but at the end of the day we must realise that appeasing men is not the answer.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

The will of the Lord be done

“So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, ‘The will of the Lord be done.’” - Act 21v14

I had a light-hearted conversation with a friend yesterday about the supposed “personality types.” These are probably best known to Christians because of Tim LeHaye’s “The Spirit Controlled Temperament” where he lists four personality types; choleric, melancholy, phlegmatic, and sanguine.

I like the Winnie the Pooh personality traits. Pooh, Rabbit, Eeyore, and Tigger fit LeHaye’s types pretty well. I identify with Rabbit, the irascible choleric. Rabbit just had a way of disagreeing with the other characters. Deep down you know he cares, but most of the time he just does things and does them his way, suffering the consequences later. What he does he fully believes in and nothing is going to dissuade him. Trouble is he is usually misguided.

In Paul I see a classis Rabbit, but with a difference. Paul is a spirit-controlled choleric. It is not clear where his motivation to go to Jerusalem came from. He said it was by the Holy Spirit’s leading, but others said that the Holy Spirit has told them to warn him not to go. Either way he was going. Here, Philip had a vision that Paul would be bound if he went and everyone began crying and pleading with him not to go.

Was Paul moved? Was he dissuaded? No – he said, “What are you so upset about. You are breaking my heart. I am not only willing to be bound, but to die for Christ if needed.”

That was it. There was nothing more to say. I am first challenged by his words. Would I go if I knew I would go to jail? Would I go if I knew there was a chance of dying? The short answer – I don’t know.

The folks in Philip’s house also had the right response. “God’s will be done.” At the end of the day when we can’t agree what to do that is the answer. To pray that God’s will, not any party or any person’s will, be done.

Monday, 5 November 2007

I commend you

"So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” - Act 20v32

There was a wonderful old comedy television programme back in the 60s. I think it only ran in the States. It was called “The Andy Griffith Show” and it was about a small town sheriff and his bumbling deputy. In one episode the sheriff’s son accidentally kills a mother bird and spends the rest of the show raising the baby birds. At the very end he has to free the birds. After he does so the sheriff and his deputy are talking it over. Barney, the deputy, says, “Well, the cage looks kinda empty.” Andy, the sheriff responds, “Yeah, but don’t the trees look full.”

Any parent, teacher, or spiritual leader can identify with the emotion. We work with, teach, and pour our lives into people, but the day comes when we have to let them go.

Paul faced a similar situation in Ephesus. After years of working with them the time had come to say farewell. Paul had the right spirit though. He knew how to let them go. “I commend you to the Lord and to the word of His grace.” Paul had done all he could do.

Letting people go can be challenging. As Opie, little boy in the programme said, “What if they can’t fly?” However, Paul, and us, have more than Opie had. Opie had to depend on the job he did. We don’t have to do that. We can depend on what Paul did – he had a God who loved them even more than he did. He had God’s word which was perfect.

We are all going to face times when we have to “let them go.” We don’t have to just let them go and hope for the best like Opie did – we have an Almighty God and His perfect word to depend on. Our life might be a little empty without them, but won’t the world look full?

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Therefore watch

“Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” - Act 20v31

It would be to great to think that everything was going to be rosy in the garden for the church. From the very start men like Paul were aware that Trouble (notice the capital “T” again) was ahead.

As he addressed the elders at Ephesus he echoed words that would have been familiar to those who heard had heard the accounts of Jesus in the garden when He told the disciples to “watch and pray.” Paul, as he was preparing to leave Ephesus reminded the men to ‘watch.”

There were tow specific groups that Paul warned about. First were the ravenous wolves from the outside who would try to come in and destroy the church. That warning has proven itself valid throughout history and it is clear that we too need to be watching for those wolves which still wander about today.

However, there is a more insidious danger to watch for. Paul said “Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” Tragically, even the church itself is not immune from attacks within.

How do we balance love and trust with the warning to watch? Simple enough – “Trust but verify.” That may sound cruel and untrusting at first, but a well-intentioned brother in Christ may start out with the right motivation and end up doing exactly what Paul talks about.

Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus to watch. I think that is a warning all of us can take and heed. Trust…but verify.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

None of these things move me

“And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” - Acts 20v22-24

I don’t know what one word I would use to describe Paul if I were limited to one word. Perhaps something will come to mind as we look through his letters. Today one particular word comes to mind – tenacious, though I wish there was a better word for spiritual tenacity.

Here Paul is addressing the Ephesian elders with what would be his farewell address. He recounted his ministry there, and then moved on to the future. He did not know what lay ahead, except he knew there was going to be trouble and difficulty and that he would face imprisonment and tribulations.

Yet as he looked down the road he said this – “None of these things move me, I don’t really consider what happens to me important. All I want to do is finish my race with joy. All I want to do is the ministry that God gave me – to testify of God’s grace>”

Paul knew that his future would probably land him in jail, that he would be beaten, and that at the end of the day it would cost him his life. Yet, he could say, “None of these things move me, all I want to do is finish my race with joy.”

As I write my heart is smitten with conviction. I just saw this morning that the value of the dollar has fallen to 1.45 to the euro. When I read that I got a sick feeling in my stomach. I thought about the fact that we are renting. I thought about the fact that the landlord is probably going to raise the rent. I thought about what we are going to do about the weak dollar and how bad it is going to get. Even now as I type the thoughts are going through my head.

No matter what happens next we still have a race to run. We still have a ministry to accomplish. We still have a testimony of God’s grace to share.

Please Father, give me, give us all hearts that say, “None of these things move me.”

Friday, 2 November 2007

On the first day of the week

“Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight” . - Act 20v7

I find the change or the transition for Sabbath worship to Sunday worship interesting. Perhaps the church began worshipping on Sunday because of the Gentile believers. Perhaps it was evidence that they were no longer bound by the Sabbath keeping of the Law. There is plenty of evidence from some of the early Christian writings that the reason was to celebrate the resurrection. Whatever the specifics it is clear that very early on and continuing to today the church met on the first day of the week.

Every week we have the marvellous opportunity to meet together and celebrate our Saviour’s resurrection. From the very start the church saw the importance of coming together. Today there seems to be a move to de-emphasis the kind of worship and fellowship started in the early days of the church.

It is also interesting to note that not only today’s preachers are long winded. Paul knew he was leaving town the next day, so he took the opportunity to preach – all the way till midnight! Nest time you start looking at your watch remember what happened when Paul preached!

Thursday, 1 November 2007

So the word of God prevailed

“So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.” - Act 19v20

If there was ever any place on earth that was impossible to reach with the gospel it was Ephesus. The city was incredibly rich. It was quite possibly the greatest and most important city of Asia Minor at the time when Paul and his team went there. About 225,000 people lived there, many in wealth and splendour. Who in a city like that would think they needed God? Besides, they already had all the religion they could want. The city was after all the world-wide headquarters for Artimes/Diana worship and there was a huge temple there.

Yet, this is where God led Paul. They had some great success, which of course was followed by trouble. There is the almost amusing account of seven Jewish brothers who thought they could ride Paul’s coat tails (or robe tails) and make a prophet off of casting out demons – this led to one demon possessed man beating them up and sending them running naked into the streets.

After this though there was a huge change. People started getting saved, including some of the magicians who brought in and burned about 40 million euro worth of their books and wares.

The amazing and encouraging thing is this – the word of God grew mightily and prevailed. In spite of materialism, false religion, and demonism the word of God grew mightily and prevailed. Did you catch that – it PREVAILED!!

I doubt that any of us are ever going to be called into a more challenging field than Ephesus – yet even there the word of God prevailed.

Praise God for His prevailing word!