Monthly Archives: July 2013

Smooth Sailing

SMOOTH SAILING

“In the meantime, the rest of us had gone on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos where we planned to pick up Paul. Paul wanted to walk there and so had made these arrangements earlier. Things went according to plan. We met him at Assos, took him on board, and sailed to Mitylene. The next day we put in opposite Chios, Samos a day later, and then Miletus. Paul had decided to bypass Ephesus so that he wouldn’t be held up in Asia province. He was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Pentecost, if at all possible.” Acts 20:13-16 (The Message).

For once things were going according to plan for Paul. He had set his sights on Jerusalem in time for Pentecost and he was well on his way to getting there on time. The weather favoured the sailors; he was accompanied by his dear friends and behind him was the result of his faithful labour for Jesus.

He was still a Jew at heart, with the memory of Jewish festivals deeply ingrained in him. He had spent the most part of his life among pagans, gathering in the harvest of souls for the kingdom of God from city to city with toil, hardship and suffering — imprisonment, beatings, stoning, walking thousands of miles, experiencing the rigors of heat, cold, hunger and loneliness, but he was not daunted because he was gathering experience no one could take from him.

Jerusalem was his goal, the centre of the Jewish world and the city of his own people. Like Jesus, Paul was on a determined course for Jerusalem but, unlike Jesus, he did not yet know what awaited him there. He had been the butt of Jewish hostility throughout his travels. Many times he had been forced to turn his back on them and give his attention to the Gentiles because they had rejected him and threatened his life. He had been hounded from one city to the next and often had to change plans to escape their murderous plots but he still loved them and longed for their favourable response to the good news.

“‘I speak the truth in Christ — I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit — I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” Romans 9:1-4a (NIV).

How could Paul say a thing like that when his own people had treated him so badly? Surely he must have held a grudge against them for the scars on his body and on his soul? Not at all! Paul, how could you be so forgiving and so caring in the face of all you have suffered at their hands?

Jesus uttered words on the cross that, if we would really take them to heart, would take the sting out of the things we suffer at the hands of others. “‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'” Luke 23:34 (NIV).

Like his Master, Paul realised that the way they treated him was just like the way he treated the believers before he met Jesus on the Damascus road, because he didn’t know what he was doing. Isn’t that true? Ignorance is not an excuse but often a reason for our foolish behaviour. If we really knew what the consequences of our words and actions would be, would we treat others the way we do?

One of the reasons why we withhold forgiveness from another is that we think we are better than he. What he has done to us we would never do to him. Really? We feel so outraged. How could he, she? But we forget that we are just as guilty because we are just as ignorant of the consequences.

Only a compassionate heart that really cared about the lives of those who hated him, could cause Paul to say, “‘I have great sorrow…'”

Nothing Is Impossible

NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE!

“He will be called great,
be called ‘Son of the Highest’.
The Lord God will give Him
the throne of His father David;
He will rule Jacob’s house forever —
no end, ever, to His kingdom.”

“Mary said to the angel, ‘But how? I’ve never slept with a man.’

The angel answered,

‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you;
the power of the Highest hover over you;
Therefore, the child you bring to birth
will be called Holy, Son of God.’

“‘And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth, conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”

“And Mary said,

‘Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
just as you say.’

“Then the angel left her.” Luke 1:32-38 (The Message).

Unlike Zachariah, Mary did not have a problem with unbelief. She just didn’t know how she could conceive a child without a husband. A simple explanation satisfied her and she quickly submitted to the Lord’s will.

Did she understand what this calling would cost her? In the mercy of God she, like us, lived her life one day at a time.

If her fiancé, Joseph, had not been the godly man that he was, and a man who truly loved her, she might have lost him and the opportunity of having a husband and a normal family.

She had no idea of the stigma that she and her son would carry because of His virgin birth. And what of the pain of a son who appeared to have lost His mind so that He needed protection from Himself, and the worst of all, losing Him to death at the hands of His enemies! How would she handle the transition of being the mother of Jesus to being a disciple of the Son of God?

When Mary made her commitment to the angel that she was willing to be God’s handmaiden, although she knew nothing of what lay ahead of her, she was ready to entrust her body and her life to the God whom she loved and served. Whatever He asked of her, she was willing to give and she never reneged on her promise.

She trusted the God of her fathers and she trusted the son He had placed in her care for thirty years. With the angel’s reassurance ringing in her ears, ‘Nothing is impossible with God,’ she gave herself to her calling to bear this child, no matter what pain it brought into her life, because God had asked her to do it.

God Does Such Nice Thiings

GOD DOES SUCH NICE THINGS!

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:

“Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.

“She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, ‘Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: you will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call His name Jesus.'” Luke 1:26-31 (The Message)

What a lovely way to announce his presence! Poor Mary did not know what to make of the angel or his greeting.

Imagine a teenage girl suddenly being confronted by a celestial visitor with a shocking announcement that she was to become pregnant before her marriage! What would her fiancé’ and her family think of her? How would she convince them that this was none of her doing! Should she agree to this, she would run the risk of being stoned to death – the price of fornication.

The angel’s greeting was neither apologetic nor explanatory. What was he trying to do? Butter her up with sweet words? Not likely! He was a messenger from God, speaking words from God. He was conveying in simple human language exactly what God thought of Mary. Isn’t it amazing that he should have used words of lavish praise and appreciation!

Did that mean that Mary was perfect? No! Did it mean that God saw Mary as perfect? Yes! What was the difference? God saw Mary as she would be, not as she was. Isn’t that dishonest? No! God sees the end from the beginning, the finished product, and is able to appreciate His handiwork in advance because He knows that He will complete what He had begun.

“…Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 (NIV).

It was on this basis that God could entrust her with the task of bearing and raising His boy to manhood in a home where He would be taught to love and honour God. Seeing that Jesus was the Son of God, did He need that? Yes, He did because He had to learn to be human and He had to learn it in an environment of a loving and caring home where both His earthy parents honoured and obeyed God.

God chose well. Mary’s response reveals her heart attitude to Him. She did not know all the implications of her obedience, but she could trust Him to lead her through whatever came her way because she knew that He was faithful to His Word. She might have been caught up in the excitement and glamour of the moment, but she would soon learn what her commitment meant.

In her words of simple surrender, “‘I am the Lord’s servant….May it be to me as you have said,'” Luke 1:38, she crossed the line in the sand and put herself totally at God’s disposal to do with her as He chose.

Are you willing to do the same?

The Solitude Of Ecstasy

THE SOLITUDE OF ECSTASY

“Meanwhile, the congregation waiting for Zachariah was getting restless, wondering what was keeping him so long in the sanctuary. When he came out and couldn’t speak, they knew he had seen a vision. He continued speechless and had to use sign language with the people.

“When the course of his priestly assignment was completed, he went back home. It was not long before his wife, Elizabeth, conceived. She went off by herself for five months, relishing her pregnancy. ‘So, this is how God acts to remedy my unfortunate condition!’ she said.” Luke 1:21-25 (The Message).

True to the angel’s prediction, Zachariah was struck dumb from the moment the angel had spoken. The waiting worshippers realised that something out-of-the-ordinary had happened to him behind the curtain of the sanctuary. His unskilled use of sign language left them curious and mystified.

Zachariah completed his duties in the temple and returned home to Elizabeth. One wonders how he explained to Elizabeth what had happened to him in the sanctuary and what the angel had said to him! Perhaps he had to leave the details of the story until after John’s birth. The most important fact was that Elizabeth conceived a child to her amazement and delight. Unlike some of the reactions of elderly mothers-to-be, she saw in this event the grace of God and the removal of the stigma of childlessness.

Not only was the fact that she was at last to have a child precious to her, but also the realisation that God had not forgotten her. All the years of waiting, the cycle of disappointment and the belief that she was not one of God’s favoured daughters, fell away with the slowly dawning reality that she was pregnant; she, barren Elizabeth, was no longer barren.

She went into solitude, not to hide in shame or embarrassment, but to savour and enjoy this new-found realisation that God had a purpose for her too. She wanted to be alone with her God to worship Him and to voice her ceaseless praise to Him without interruption from any other human being, not even her husband, Zachariah.

Was it this season of solitude with God part of the foundation laid for John’s life and destiny? Elizabeth may not have lived to see the outcome of this boy that she was privileged to bring into the world, but she would surely go to her rest knowing that he was safely in the hands of the God who had destined him for greatness.

She worshipped and prayed into her unborn son the great heritage of her people, perhaps using the song-book of the Psalms to instil into him a love for God and His Word that carried him through testing, incarceration and an untimely and violent death.

Jesus classified John as the greatest of the Old Covenant prophets, even though his ministry lasted a paltry six months. It was not the length of his ministry that constituted his greatness but the nature of his calling and the diligence and faithfulness with which he carried it out. His was the honour, as the forerunner of Messiah, to herald the king’s arrival even though Jesus did not come with the pomp and ceremony of an earthly king.

True to His role as the rightful ruler of creation and all mankind, Jesus came in humility and simplicity and John announced His coming as befitted Him. It was not their apparel or their bearing that made them great but the authority of their office, Jesus as the king and John His herald, given to them by the great God Himself.

Elizabeth was the wife of a country priest but she fulfilled her maternal role with dignity and excellence, preparing her son from the moment of his conception to be the greatest prophet who ever lived.

A Walking Miracle

A WALKING MIRACLE!

“They went on ahead and waited for us in Troas. Meanwhile we stayed in Philippi for Passover Week and then set sail. Within five days we were again in Troas and stayed a week.

“We met on Sunday to worship and celebrate the Master’s Supper. Paul addressed the congregation. Our plan was to leave first thing in the morning, but Paul talked on, way past midnight. We were meeting in a well-lighted upper room. A young man named Eutychus was sitting in an open window. As Paul went on and on, Eutychus fell sound asleep and toppled out the third story window. When they picked him up, he was dead.” Acts 20:5-9 (The Message).

This is such a human story! A long-winded preacher and someone falls asleep! Fortunately, not everyone who sleeps in church ends up dead!

Did Paul have a premonition that he was meeting with the church at Troas for the last time? He had so much to share with them that he forgot the time, although the plan was to leave early in the morning. Instead of having an early night, he met with the believers in an upper room, shared the Lord’s Supper with them and poured out the passion of his heart hour after hour.

While most of the congregation stayed awake, there was one who just could not keep his eyes open. Sitting on an upstairs windowsill was a precarious enough perch, but sleeping there was Eutychus’ undoing. One moment he was there and the next he was gone, lying dead on the ground below. Imagine the panic when the crowd tumbled downstairs and someone picked up his lifeless body. What a terrible end to a wonderful day!

“Paul went down, stretched himself on him, and hugged him hard ‘No more crying,’ he said. ‘There’s life in him yet.’ Then Paul got up, and served the Master’s Supper. And went on telling stories of the faith until dawn! On that note, they left — Paul went one way, the congregation another, leading the boy off alive, and full of life themselves.” Acts 20:10-12 (The Message).

Did Paul remember the story of Elisha and a widow’s dead son? What he did next was so matter-of-fact that it seems as though, for Paul, it was all in a day’s (or night’s) work. Eutychus dead? No problem. Just lie on him for a few moments and he’ll live, and that’s exactly what happened. Not even an unexpected death in the congregation made him miss a beat.

How is that for a steadfast purpose! Nothing deviated Paul from his intention to make and build disciples at every opportunity he had, and he would not allow even a tragic accident to distract him from his mission. It almost seems as though he treated the event as an interruption which he had no problem dealing with so that he could get on with his task.

What did it mean to the small group believers at Troas? What would they remember of Paul’s last visit with them? The hours of preaching and teaching that night? Not likely. The miracle of a dead boy raised to life? O yes! What Paul was sharing with them was a vital part of their understanding of the life they had committed themselves to living with the Lord, but the walking miracle among them was a constant reminder that Jesus was alive, real and powerful for them and in them.

Was the devil in this? Most definitely, because he holds the power of death, but he never has the last word. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life and through His victory over death, Eutychus woke up to live out his allotted time. His tragic death turned out to be a visual aid of God’s power among them which they would not easily forget. .