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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Together

"So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7).

Let's get something straight right from the beginning. I am a guy. I am stubborn. I know nothing about cars. The first two statements can sometimes serve as false confidence that tries to fool me and others that perhaps I do know something about cars. To ask for help would be to admit that I don't. It might be a stain on the masculinity that shouts in my ears that "all guys know about cars!"

During my quest for ultimate manhood in learning how to do "something" in regards to the automotive universe, I decided to humble myself...at least once. I asked someone to show me how to change the oil in my wife's minivan. This mechanic friend of mine complied and came over one Saturday afternoon and proceeded to show me what to do, how to do it, and gave me some tips to help me along the way. No problem. A few months and several miles later, it was time to do it again. This time I was to do it by myself; the test of my manly skills of auto mechanics. Problem. After I got under the van, I tried to loosen oil plug to no avail. I tried everything I could. Nothing. I went on YouTube and watched videos, but just could not figure out what I was doing wrong. Finally, I humbled myself to the hard-fought against revelation that I could not do all things. I am good at some things, but not at others. Where I lack the skills necessary to complete a task, God has equipped others. I called my friend. He came over, and once again, we changed the oil...together. The lesson was more profound for me than just merely about mechanics of a car, but the mechanics of partnerships. We are more effective when we compliment others and are complimented by the strengths of others. Together. It's powerful.

Acts 6 is the result of the early church leaders coming to a similar conclusion. They couldn't do everything. They were never meant to do everything. If there effectiveness was ever going to grow beyond the limits of them as a small group, they had to learn the power of "together-partnership." The only way for them to truly excel at what they were good at, was to delegate and equip others to do what they could not. It took humility and security to ask the help of others. It took a belief in the common goal. It was the idea that by themselves they would only achieve so much, but together they would multiply in exponential ways that would surpass random explanation. Partnering together kept them gifted, grounded, and God-honoring. Together they created an atmosphere that was conducive for rapid, yet effective and substantive growth.

You can't do everything. Be free from that pressure, because you were never created for such an impossible task. By trying to take on such a burdensome responsibility, you become ineffective, not trusting God, and disobedient Christ's call for us to live as ONE. Don't rob other of the opportunity to partner with you, to be blessed by them being able to bless you with how God has gifted and equipped them. In what ways have you given into prideful stubbornness, not asking for or allowing help from someone else? What effectiveness in your life has been forfeited by your refusal to partnering together? God did not call you to be isolated, self-dependent, or a "one-person show." He called you to be ONE with others, partnering together, complimenting the strengths of those who are pursuing the same goal of bringing glory and honor to the name of Jesus. We do this when we purpose to do it together. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Second Chance

"'Go, stand in the temple courts,' he said, 'and tell the people all about this new life'" (Acts 5:20).

His was a life that had become like an out of control train heading for imminent derailment as a result for his disregard for the consequences of his choices. Alcoholism had cost him self-control, personal dignity, and his job. This disease that was birthed out of poor decision making was determining his destiny. It was beginning to define the man that he was and would be. As this man was getting an up-close view of the bottom of the barrel, the voice of God began to speak like never before. This began a new journey of sobriety, salvation, and second chances.

Fast-forward several years. Through the struggles of endurance and diligence, God continued to show His faithfulness in ways that would blow the mind of this man that was at one time on a fast-tracked road leading to a dead-end. At one point on this road to second-chances, he would surrender to his life to Jesus Christ, be baptized in the church he and his family had started attending together, and become recipients of a love that redefine the direction of their lives. As the economy was spiraling out of control, he found himself unemployed, yet trusting God. As a result of an interview the local paper did with them in regards to a Christmas blessing they received, he was able to share how God had changed his life. After reading this story that was printed in the Christmas day edition, the employers that had let him go three years earlier due to alcoholism called him up and offered him a job...at JUST THE RIGHT TIME. What once detoured him would no longer define him.

The disciples of Jesus had lived out a similar story of failure and redemption. They had deserted Jesus. Even after loud promises and violent demonstrations, they had fled Him, denied Him, and ultimately betrayed Him. Through any angle of observation, they had blatantly put the last nail in the coffin of their relationship with and commitment to Jesus Christ. But, they repented. They humbled themselves. They renewed their devotion to Him. So, as Acts 5 paints  portrait, they find themselves in the midst of controversy, accusations, and abuse. Yet, the angel of God has told them to go back, stand up again, and declare the name of Jesus. He called them to go back and to preach in the very name that had resulted in their trouble, the name they had once abandoned for their own safety. They had betrayed Him, yet God was granting them a second chance. Their previous abandonment did not render them useless. God would give them another opportunity to stand up with Him in complete acknowledgement of the name above all names.

You have made mistakes. We all have. Perhaps you've cheated, lied, betrayed, or have backed down when you should have stood up. Maybe you've compromised some areas of your life that have resulted in guilt, shame, or regret. Don't give up. Don't look at yourself any lower than your Father in Heaven sees you. He sees the destiny, purpose, and promise for which He created you. Look up and see that He offers you another opportunity to do what He's call you to do. Choose not to squander this gift. Determine to stand. Purpose in your heart to persevere through a strength that is only available in Him. Repent of your mistakes. Receive His mercy. Recommit your whole life to live in honor of Him. Your second chance is made available through His matchless grace. Don't give up. Stand up. Move on. He is with you.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Excited & Unashamed

"As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).

November 23, 2004 is a day that will endure in my memory for the rest of my days. It was the day that my first born, my son, would make his debut into this world. His entrance would further propel me to new heights and depths in the roles of my own existence. "I'm a dad!" This bizarre, yet wildly attractive concept flooded my abilities to stay on a single train of thought. I was so excited. I called everyone. I emailed everyone. I used social networking sites to get the word out! My life has once again forever changed!! I wanted the world to know and to share this excitement that had already landed its firm grasp around my overjoyed heart.

In like manner, Peter and John had been given to great rejoicing over seeing what the power of God was doing in the lives of others and how God was using them to see it all happen. Jesus had forever changed them. They began to talk about it. Share about. Their own excitement was becoming contagious and impacting many around the city. Now, they had been told not to speak in the name of Jesus, or of what He had done, any further. There response was unafraid, unashamed, and non-compromising. They had to speak about what Christ had done their lives. It was welling up with in them. They were excited and passionate about what they had seen and heard. They were willing to do nothing less than live it out with all they had. They refuse to be silent about who Jesus was, how He had changed them by the power of His love, and how He was using them to change the world.

There will always be an enemy, an opposition, a roadblock that seeks to silence us, shy us away, or slow us down in our passionate pursuit for Christ that began the moment we realized the authenticity of His love for us. Don't give in! The name of Jesus is life, power, and victory. When we live in a way that unashamedly proclaims devotion to Him, we begin to see the supernatural intervention of God all around us.

What Jesus has done, is doing, and can do is exciting! It's life-changing! Can you think of that moment or any moment when you realized that His love, though it saw the worst of you, still loved the best for you? Have you ever been excited about the fact that His forgiveness frees you from all of the regrets and shame of past mistakes? Has the excitement ever overwhelmed you about the peace that He gives that calms you from all the nagging thoughts and reminders of pains, hurts, and failures? Here's the big question. Are you still excited? Have you forgotten all that God has done in your life? Take a moment and try to recount the many times that God has shown Himself real to you. As you remember, you will begin to be reignited with that same excitement that first grabbed hold of you, and the world won't be able to stop the locomotive passion inside of your heart to share what He's done in you. Choose to always remember and allow the excitement of what He's begun in you to fuel that passion inside of you. Go ahead. Be excited and unashamed. He loved you that much. Let somebody know!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When It's OK to Talk About People

"When Peter saw this, he said to them..." (Acts 3:12).

Time for confession. I like to talk about people. It's true. But before I am accused of enjoying the latest gossip, let me clarify. I like to talk about people like Kevin. When Kevin was 16 years old, he was rebellious, crude, disrespectful and didn't want to have anything to do with God. I remember one evening praying at the bottom of the basement steps in his home as he and his parents were engaged in a shouting match that sent chills up my spine. It wasn't so much the volume of the conversation, but the possible future impact of the words that were being formed and released from within Kevin's heart. He defiantly declared that he didn't need God and remarked that there was nothing his parents could do to prove that God existed. I like to talk about Kevin. Later that summer Kevin reluctantly attended an event with his church youth group and it changed his life forever. No, it wasn't the event, but God used that event to speak to the very core of Kevin's existence. Kevin realized that he was on a path that was leading him to destruction though he had been blinded in the process. He came home that weekend and begin to make radical decisions that many wouldn't understand. He gave up some things that had been very important to him, though they linked him to crowds and circumstances that proven destructive. Since that day, Kevin has served at a youth pastor, associate pastor, and has traveled the world telling of the awesomeness of the grace, forgiveness, and power to change lives that he found in Jesus Christ. I like to tell his story.

In Acts 3, Peter and John were walking towards the temple gate when they were interrupted by the likes of a crippled beggar asking for money. These two disciples did not offer money, but offered to introduce him to the power of God in a way that he would never forget. They reached out and took his hand and the once-crippled man stood up, and began to jump and shout! This was undoubtedly a sight to see and it inevitably attracted great attention. Peter took advantage of the situation in order to further testify about who Jesus is. No, this wasn't his testimony, but was it was very much connected to the heart of who Christ was and what He had done in him. Peter was determined to talk and to tell the story of what Jesus had done, not just in him, but in the lives of others.

It is amazing to think about what God has done in our lives, and we should! Be sure, however, to tap into the reality that what God is doing is not just about you. It is also about what He as done in is doing the lives of so many people around you. It's great to tell your story, and you should. Tell of how He has saved you, forgiven you, loved you, has changed you, and is continuing to change you. But, also tell the stories of other and how God has impacted their lives. Experiences unite us and can help confirm the experiences of others. Your story alone may be the spark that ignites an interest, but combined with the stories of what God is doing in the lives of friends, family, and others will set that spark ablaze. It will further the credibility of what God can do in the yes of those who are still searching for something real.

So how do you know what to share? Open your eyes and see what God is doing in those around you. Ask people. This will open up incredible doors of opportunity for people to share of their interaction with God and His intervention in their lives. You will encourage them by listening and encourage others by sharing. In the process, share your story with them. People love to hear people talk about people. Give them something to talk about that is worthwhile, God-honoring, and will impact their own lives in the process!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Praying Together

"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place" (Acts 2:1).

He was 17 years old and was at a youth service at our church for the very first time. He was apprehensive about coming, but gave into the sense that this was where he was supposed to be. The evening had begun and I had gone to lead the adult service that was taking place in another part of our building. After I had completed speaking, I journeyed back into the area where the youth service was in full swing. The youth pastor was challenging the teenagers to go beyond where they had yet come in their relationship with God. I stood there praying, believing God was doing something incredible in the hearts and lives of these young men and women.

As the youth pastor called the students to respond, challenging them to get up and come down front to pray, this 17 year old who stayed with reluctance got up and approached me where I was standing. "Will you go and pray with me?" "Of course" was my reply. I followed him to an area down front that was already filling up with other teenagers who were on their faces before a God that loves them more than words can express. We knelt, and together, we prayed. During that prayer, this reluctant student eagerly prayed with me a prayer of surrender to Jesus Christ. Yes, he could have prayed by himself. Yes, God would have answered. Yet, his life was powerfully changed in one evening because of praying together. He was not alone. He was convinced.

Before the disciples of Jesus experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, they engaged both intently and intensely in the purpose of the Savior. Jesus' own prayer was that His followers become "one" as He was one with the Father. The disciples were committed to passionately pursuing God and waiting upon Him. They prayed, pursued, and patiently waited on Him...together. They were not alone. They understood that prayer was impacting, but they further discovered the unleashed power of "agreement." When they added "agreement" to their prayer, and unity to their prayer, the power of that prayer increased exponentially. Their was strength in having a united purpose. Their united purpose was to see the power of God do exactly what Jesus said it would do. He said that would receive power, comfort, wisdom, and guidance through the coming of the Holy Spirit. They weren't told to "make it happen." They were told to pray...and to do it together. It wasn't based on the prayer of one person, but of "one people." It's no wonder they experienced the presence of God in such a way that has forever changed the course of history. And yes, it can happen yet again!

It's not enough for your to say "Lord, teach me to pray." Rather, pray "Lord, teach us to pray." As you seek the face of God as an individual, don't lose sight of the importance of praying with others. You are not in this alone. You need others and others need you. Determine that the common goal in life is to worship Jesus with every part of your life. Identify those that share that common purpose. Make a point to get together and pray. Pray for each other. Pray for your weak areas, thank God together for the strong areas, and pray for those around you. When you join in unity and agreement in prayer, you will see the powerful presence of God that reminds you that He is always there.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Powerful Surrender

"But you will Spirit comes on you; and 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" (Acts 1:8).

Turn on the television, read the headlines on an internet ticker, or listen during radio news breaks and you can become discouraged. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the hope of the world. His love and is grace are so amazing to change even the most vile of people. When we see that evil's presence seems as much alive as it has ever been, we can begin to wonder exactly how God is going to reach this planet with a lasting change.

Acts 1:8 was Jesus' response to a question that could make one wonder if they had missed the point. The disciples had great hopes in the coming of their Messiah. They presumed that Jesus would come and take the throne by force, ushering in a political and military take-over. They believed with all of their hearts in who Jesus was and what the prophets said He would do. Isaiah prophesied that His would be a kingdom who's government and rule would never end. So, when Jesus died and was resurrected, they were riddled with confusion on how the world would be reached and impacted by this Messiah that many could not understand.

Jesus told them to wait for the "promise." Jesus had spoken about this before, indicating it to be the Holy Spirit. But they still had their ideas, and were trying to fit His instruction into their ideas. In essence, He told them to lay aside their agenda and surrender to His. He had a purpose for them now, and that was to take priority over all else. There was a world to each.

There is a world to reach, and you have been called to be a part of the process. Your agenda, notions, and ideas about how, why, and what God should or is going to do is irrelevant. What is relevant, is that God's heart for the world to know Him involves you. Surrender all you are to Him. When you are fully surrendered, you will see the power of His purpose in your life to impact those around you. Reaching the world starts right where you are, and from there, expands around the globe to the "ends of the earth."