Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Story, Chapter 30 - Paul's Final Days

I am often suspicious of highly motivated people, perhaps because I am much more of a laid-back kind of person. I think they call those energizer bunny types a Type A personality. I'm more a Type Z - when stressed, catch a few zzzzz's and deal with it when you wake up. Anyway, in Paul I see maybe one of the most highly motivated people I have ever read of. He's not just a Type A, he's A+!

Type A's kind of scare me. They must be selling something. They must have some ulterior motives. Behind all that activity must be some devious charlatan eager to deceive me.

In Chapter 29 of The Story I saw another side of Paul. I guess I saw the man that I had missed in all the activity. I often associated Paul with doctrine. I love doctrine. I studied doctrine and Paul was the master theologian. I have always been impressed with his spiritual mind. I also often associated Paul with his fast and furious missionary journeys. I marveled at his non-stop pace, his ability to plant churches, his eagerness to go wherever the Spirit led him. I have always been impressed with his spiritual strength!

This week I discovered another dimension of this Type A apostle. As I read of his fateful journey to Jerusalem and his subsequent voyage to Rome I discovered that at the core of his being was a man whose great mind and great strength was only surpassed by his great heart.

This was a man deeply in love with Jesus Christ. A man whose heart powered his harried pace. As I read some of his last recorded words to Timothy this immense passion emerged from the pages and it struck me that there was nothing suspect about this Type A personality. He was more genuine, more real than I will ever be. I was especially moved by a familiar verse, one that was the inspiration of a hymn I remember singing often growing up:

I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

Or in the KJV wording,

I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed unto Him against that Day.

I leave Chapter 29 with a new appreciation of Paul. On several occasions Paul would urge believers to "imitate me." I always thought that as somewhat arrogant. Just another pushy salesman! Now that I see his heart, I see it as good advice. He really seemed to "get it" and when one "gets it," they are never the same again!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Story, Chapter 29, Paul's Mission

Have you noticed that in the last few years movies don't end when you think they do? Oh, there will be an ending, but after the credits role for a few minutes there will be some outtakes or additional scenes. I've found myself standing up, brushing the popcorn off me, and ready to go only to take my seat again to see these usually entertaining postscripts.

I don’t have any insider information why producers do this, but I suspect that they reserve these scenes so we'll stay and watch the names of the many people who have made that movie possible - and it does take a bunch of people! I'm amazed at all the work that goes into making a movie, and usually the only ones we give credit to are the stars of the movie and maybe the producer and director.

The same can be said of the early church. Most of us can name the main characters - Peter and Paul. Outside of them we might be able to blurt out a few more names, but most of those are lost in the shadows of the great ones!

This week while reading The Story I intentionally circled all the lesser known characters as a reminder to me that the church didn’t rise on the backs of just a few individuals, but that it took a host of faithful believers to get the message out. The chapter is even titled Paul's Mission, but this is hardly the work of one man. In his shadows are scores of hard-working, courageous, selfless men and women who are used by God to share with the world the life-saving message of Jesus.

So, take a seat and let's give credit to Barnabas and Mark. And don’t forget the roles played by Timothy and Silas. And there's the husband and wife duo of Priscilla and Aquila. Then there's Lydia, Jason, Titius Justus, and Apollos. And that's hardly a complete list. In fact, at the end of many of Paul's letters you can see lists of others without whom the mission would never have been accomplished.

Chapter 29 may be a record of Paul's mission, but it really is all of ours. Although our names may not don the marquees or be preserved in history, we too are critical players in this divine drama. So, find your role, listen to the director, and listen to the challenge - Lights, Camera, Action!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Story, Chapter 28 - New Beginnings

When LeBron James burst onto the NBA scene after a sensational high school basketball career a well-known shoe company capitalized on his fame signing him to a lucrative contract. One of their slogans used to promote their LeBron James's commercials was "We are all witnesses." I suppose we were all to feel a certain sense of privilege to be living at this time and in this place to be able to experience this incredible athlete. And, as a basketball fan, I am, to some degree, honored and privileged to see such a talent - except when he recently defeated my Boston Celtics!

I've been a witness to quite a few athletic talents in my lifetime. As a Boston fan I especially remember with fondness and privilege watching the great Larry Bird, Bobby Orr, Carl Yastrzemski, and Drew Bledsoe. And as time passes I regale my sons with tales from my sports-watching childhood. I boastfully recite statistics and proudly recall championships. I was a witness!

I noticed that "witness" is a recurring word in Chapter 18 of The Story. The apostles appeal to their eyewitness observation of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection as they proclaim the salvation offered through him. They are proud and bold. They are daring and unashamed as they recall the teachings of their friend and their Savior. They see themselves as witnesses and it is because of this that the message of Jesus spreads.

Although we have not seen with our eyes the glory of Jesus we have experienced the power of his message. We too need to see ourselves as witnesses. We need to feel the same sense of pride and privilege that the apostles felt and boldly and unashamedly share with others what He means to each of us. We need to regale our children, our friends, our neighbors with the wonderful tales of the life-changing power of the gospel.

We are indeed all witnesses and that's just what the world needed then and it's what the world needs now - a band of believers willing to let the world know what an incredible Savior we have!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Story, Chapter 27 - The Resurrection

The Story, Chapter 27 - The Resurrection

On occasion I’ll stop by a fast-food restaurant and find myself silently complaining about everything from the quality of the food to the service. The person who took my order seemed preoccupied with flirting with the kid behind me. I struggle to find a table that doesn’t have the marks of a three year old’s eating habits. I open my sandwich, take a bite and am repulsed by the mustard that I specifically refused at the counter. I immediately try to wash it down to find my soda has too little fizz making it taste more like medicine than a soft drink. To add to all this mayhem I hear the annoying sound of a kid’s meal toy ringing in my ear like a siren!

I’m exaggerating a bit, but sometimes I just get annoyed at the low standards I frequently encounter. But then I think and realize that that’s what you get for the $3.99 special! You see, I can’t expect fine dining at a restaurant that has a playground. It’s unrealistic to think that I will get a gourmet meal cooked by a 17 year old just trying to make enough money to pay for movie. I should realize that if you’re looking for culinary genius you simply can’t find it where your food is wrapped in plastic.

The feeling of dissatisfaction is really not the blame of the restaurant. It’s my fault for expecting more from an establishment that simply cannot nor promises to deliver what I really want.

This is so true for many people, not just in their restaurant choices, but for their life choices as well. Too many people find their lives unsatisfying, devoid of real joy and peace. So many people find themselves complaining incessantly that life just hasn’t delivered. But the problem may be that we are looking for something in places that cannot deliver.

In the resurrection story a phrase that has always stood out to me was when the angel at the tomb ask the women who have come to care for the body of Jesus this question: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

I have often found myself left with a feeling of emptiness and spiritual hunger only to realize that I have been trying to find meaning and satisfaction in life in places that cannot deliver. I have been seeking life out of dead things and as tempting and luring as they may appear they simply cannot deliver. They will always leave us lacking.

It’s unrealistic for us to believe that the things of this dying world can really satisfy us. It’s our fault that we consistently dine at the cheap and quick spiritual restaurants of the world. We, like the women on that first Easter, need to answer the same question posed to them. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that he really can deliver. The resurrection reminds us that real satisfaction is found at his table, not at the table of the world’s imposters. Jesus invites each one of us to feast on his life giving banquet promising that all who participate in it always leave satisfied!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Story, Chapter 26 - The Hour of Darkness

Sometimes people's fortunes can turn on a dime. Ask Jack Polz. The Washington native woke up one Monday expecting it to be just another beginning of another week. The most excitement he typically had was gathering all the lottery tickets he bought throughout the week and setting down at the store he bought them at to see if he was a winner. Well, Monday, July 18 one of those tickets paid off big-time. Jack Polz was the winner of $6.4 million from the Washington State Lotto. Imagine the party that followed! His fortune turned on a dime!

Ask Hunter Pence. Last Sunday, July 31, Pence woke up as the starting right-fielder for the last place Houston Astros. Not only last place Astros, but worst-record-in-the-league Astros. He was putting up some decent numbers and had even played in the recent All-Star game, but the Astros were going nowhere fast. By the end of the day he had learned that he was traded to the first place Philadelphia Phillies. Not only the first-place Phillies, but the best-record-in-the-Major Leagues Phillies. The Phillies are a certain playoff contender and an odds-on favorite to represent the National League in the World Series. I bet pulling on that Phillies jersey immediately made Pence feel like a winner! His fortune turned on a dime!

Sometimes people's fortunes can turn on a dime.

In chapter 26 of The Story the fortunes of all mankind take a serious turn for the better. It first appeared to be just another Friday capping off a typical Passover celebration. It was a curious celebration given the fact that the controversial miracle-working rabbi Jesus had made his way into town to the praises of an adoring crown, but the Jews were still going nowhere fast. But by the end of that day we all turned out to be lottery winners. We all exchanged our loser's jerseys for those of champions. By the end of Friday our sin debt was cancelled -- paid for in full by an innocent man who willingly suffered the excruciating pain we all deserved.

Before that Friday death reigned. After that Friday life was resurrected.

Before that Friday guilt ruled. After that Friday grace took control.

Before that Friday hope was lost. After that Friday hope was found.

The fortune of all mankind turned on a dime. I guess that's why they call that Friday "Good Friday!"