Everything is Meaningless–Ecclesiastes 1 Part 1

They say all the world is a stage, and we are merely actors playing a role.  Solomon,the wisest man that ever lived–he seemed to agree with that analysis.  The book of Ecclesiastes is the straight talk from a man that God blessed in every way. Still, despite that, he managed to mess up his life.  1000 wives, 300+girlfriends, more money and stuff than could be imagined–and yet, at the end of his life, Solomon gave the best candid interview imaginable.  It was as if he was being questioned by Barbara Walters…Question one–Solomon, you have had a great reign as the King of Israel, so looking back over the last 40+ years how would you characterize your life?
 
Solomon knew that every thing that we do is simply meaningless.  Our labors, our possessions and our accomplishments, like the actor on the stage fade as the curtain closes.  The detail Solomon opens with is harrowing.  The sun rises and sets, generations come and go, the sea fills and drains and if that was it, well it is simply wearisome.  That is why, we as God’s chosen are called to be different.  We seek to leave a legacy of love and purpose with our family, friends and community–Something that is bigger than the role of “Person”.  Solomon, despite his real despair–needed to leave a legacy–something bigger than the role of King.  We see that legacy in the form of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  Each passage is an alarm, set to remind us that if we want to be more than just another line in the program–we must live to leave a legacy.
 
God Bless You  
 The words of the Teacher,[a] son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

Paul’s Arrival to Rome!-Acts 28 Final

Paul finally arrived in Rome. He had been beaten, stoned, flogged and shipwrecked– but, as God promised, he was safely delivered to Rome where he was able to preach freely for over 2 years.  He made the Gospel known to both Jew, Gentile, Barbarian, Scythian, slave and free.  He made no distinctions , he only told the truth to whomever would listen.  There at the center of the world at his time, Paul was able to spread the message to so many across the globe.  It was very difficult, and Paul ultimately gave his life for the Gospel, but, the legacy of this cocky young Pharisee was to literally change the world.

We can never be sure the impact we will have on the lives of others.  Our trials, temptations and tribulations seem to us to hold us back from being effective.  Still, in God’s planning and execution, those things become the very cornerstones of his plan.  He loves the uniqueness of each of us and exploits that uniqueness to further his mission in our lives.  We, like Paul, must accept his plan, his leadership and his method.  If we will, he will do wondrous things to us and through us until we rejoin him for eternity.  Paul said it best to the Romans–“All things work together for the good to those that Love Jesus and are called according to His purpose!” Romans 8:28

God Bless You

The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged.16 When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him...

‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
27 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’[a]

28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” [29] [b]

30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!

Rising Above the Circumstances–Acts 28 Part 1

Sometimes, we have the opportunity to rise above the circumstances.  Such was this day in Paul’s Journey.  After being shipwrecked, Paul and the shipmates all made it to the shores of the Island of Malta.  There, locals began to assist.  Paul wasted no time.  He began building a fire to warm the passengers–and was promptly snake bit.  Everyone expected him to die–but instead, Paul just kept working.  In fact, by day’s end, Paul ended up healing every sick person on the island.
 
It is in the times when we feel like it is not worth fighting anymore, that we can have our greatest impact.  We do not know what will happen in our circumstances, but, we do know that God is in control.  As he leads, we must continue to trust him and pour our lives out to complete the mission he has assigned.  He will prepare, provide and protect us from any and all things that come our way.  Further, even if he does not, he still will bring us home to spend eternity with him…Not a bad option.  We have to walk with him and let him lead.  If we do, he will do more than amazing things even in the most dire of circumstances.
 
God Bless You
Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10 They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.

Life’s Storms and Shipwrecks–Acts 27 Part 2

Paul knew the ship and its 264 lives were in for some tough times.  What started with a gentle breeze turned into a fierce hurricane and the ship floundered and eventually wrecked placing all souls in peril.  But, in the midst of the storm and eventual shipwreck, Paul never lost hope, faith or courage.  He was the man with the command of the circumstances–He encouraged and saved those in trouble.  But it was not him, really, it was the Spirit of God reminding him that the Father was in charge.
kevin_murphy_plassey_shipwreck
We, can walk through life’s storms and shipwrecks with the same strength and assurance.  Our God is faithful to meet our needs and carry us through the most ominous of trials.  Even when no hope remains, we have to stand assured that he will complete his plan in our lives.  There is no assurance that we will live a life without trials and suffering–but, we can be assured we will never face such struggles alone.  We must be strong and courageous in the storms to be the encouragement for those with little faith and no hope remaining.  When we can play that role, we will be the true ambassadors of God he has called us to be!!!
 
God Bless You
Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”

Stormy Weather–Acts 27 Part 1

 Simply put, the journey is not easy.  In Paul’s journey to Rome, nothing about the voyage was simple.  Foreboding weather and travel difficulties made each day go slowly and cause the group to fall farther behind schedule.  By the time Yom Kippur–Day of atonement arrived (usually early to mid fall), The travelers were no where near the planned destination. Paul strongly advised them to stop, but again, no one listened. The sad news was, that Paul was right.  He could see the trouble ahead–but, because he was always speaking the truth that people did not want to hear–he was marginalized.
stormy-weather
Christians today are also marginalized.  They are considered judgmental and radical–their words are simply dumb and ignorant.  They are out of touch with the world. What the world does not see, is that we are right.  God made life, family, integrity and selflessness precious for a reason.  We as a church continue to promote those values and are dismissed and persecuted for doing so. If, the world would adopt the principles we hold dear–the nation would experience peace and order again and would become the greatest nation on earth.  But, as long as the basic common sense principles are ignored–well, the storms ahead forecast disaster.  We have to continue to pray and speak the truth in love.  In doing so–perhaps God will bring the next revival and great awakening to the one nation that is still under God!!!
 
God Bless You
When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us…Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement.[a] So Paul warned them, 10 “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” 11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.

What are you Crazy, or Something–Acts 26 Part 2

The Governor, Festus was the one that asked what everyone was thinking…”What are you nuts?”  Why would a perfectly successful Jewish leader, at what seemed the height of his career, turn rogue on his group and become public enemy number one in the religious circles?  The answer was simply that God called him to repentance, restoration and revolution.  Paul, the king of the rules, was to teach the world about a life justified by faith and covered in grace.  This was truly one of God’s huge ironies.  Still in the midst of his trial, it became clear to Agrippa and Festus that the trial was a sham and that Paul was wrongfully accused of sedition.  He was simply guilty of sharing his beliefs and being passionate about his mission–neither act was worthy of execution or even trial court.
 
The world still thinks we are nuts.  For the world, we are all like Paul.  We are counter-culture.  We Love God and others more than we love ourselves.  We choose to give ourselves over to the service of others, rather than, taking from others to meet our wants and desires.  In the godless person’s eyes, “that is crazy stuff!”  But, in our experience, the reality of God’s paradoxical nature makes perfect sense.  We know by faith he is in charge of meeting our needs, we are simply to trust and follow.  While we are following, he uses us to meet the needs of others in big and small ways.  From a kind word to paying someone’s electric bill, we are at his service throughout the journey.  As we serve, the amazing miracle of his desire to make our lives full of purpose and meaning–shines through.  We, like Paul see God’s hand and are blessed in the mist of the world’s persecution and disbelief. That is what makes it an amazing adventure!
 
God Bless You
That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

30 The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. 31 After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”

32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Paul’s Defense is Man’s Salvation–Acts 26 Part 1

The funny thing about this aspect of Paul’s journey was that he had to defend his faith and mission to the leadership throughout the Jewish and Roman World.  He was not witnessing in bars and on street corners, he was standing in the courts and palaces on his way to Rome.  He was witnessing to the Elite.  While the position of the men he taught was very substantial, his message was clear and direct.  Jesus is the only way to salvation to the rich or poor, Jew or Greek, Slave or free, Emperor or peasant.

That message is still true.  We follow Christ because he is the only way to salvation.  We cannot do enough, be enough or have enough to earn our way to heaven.  We can only listen to the truth and follow the Lord to restore that relationship.  Many have tried to circumvent the truth.  We have built religion after religion to fit God into our box.  But as Paul reminded Agrippa–there is still only one way to Heaven–Jesus Christ.  We need not worry, fret or try to bend the truth.  We need only follow confidently, knowing God is still large and in charge!!!

God Bless You

So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense:“King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews,and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently…

King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?

“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.

12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic,[a] ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.

 

Then to Ceasar You Will Go–Acts 25 Part 2

The plan was to change the world.  Paul had traveled Europe and Asia for years–preaching the Gospel and turning both Jew and non-Jew to the Lord.  Still, after literal years of incarceration and being tried in Jewish and Roman courts–never adjudged guilty of anything–Paul stood before another governor pleading his innocence. Outside the court, the enemies of Paul waited to have him released so that they could kill him.
 
Paul claimed his rights a Roman–to appear and plead his case to the Emperor. In most cases, such a request would be laughed at–but Paul was not most cases!  God had a plan to have him inhabit the very palace of Caesar. There he could change the very inner workings of an Empire.  There, Paul would be safe from his “would be”  assassins and finally be able to encourage and disciple the Romans that already knew Christ.
 
Tough circumstances are never easily or eagerly welcomed by God’s people.  Personally, I like rainbows and unicorns.  I hate the trials, temptations and tragedies we have to face on this journey.  If, however, as his chosen people, we can use each event to somehow advance his kingdom, then, looking back–we will see his plan unfold and our legacy increase.  There is neither possessions enough or power enough to replace an eternal legacy. 
Paul said it best in Philippians 3–, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus!” 
 
God calls us to face the journey with our legacy in mind–if we will, then we will experience a full and meaningful life. 
 
God Bless You
Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?”

10 Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. 11 If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”

12 After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

Soldiering On–Acts 25 Part 1

I am sure that there were days that Paul was really tired of the fight.  He went to Jerusalem to show solidarity with the Church in Jerusalem.  He brought them financial aid collected from around the world.  He followed Jewish tradition to humor them.  Still, well over two years later, he sat in prison, having been tried twice; examined by Felix countless times–and still, no resolution.  Paul had every right to be angry, resentful frustrated and demoralized.  But-instead, he continued to share the Gospel with whomever would listen.
 
Life is not fair.  As his chosen, we are faced with trials, tribulation and temptations that seem to go on forever.  Amazingly, as we look, we see him answer prayers–one after another.  We watch his plan unfold and the results are always awesome.  Even when the inexplicable does occur–his love, grace and mercy carries us through what would otherwise be life-ending emotion and pain.  But, over time, we grow weary and discouraged.  We start to lose the energy and focus needed to navigate the spiritual battle in which we are locked.  That is when we can fall into his arms, follow his lead and allow him to provide the strength and courage to carry on.  It is a miracle each day.  If we will remain humble and submissive to his lead, he will deliver us and fortify us with his spirit.  Then we will truly experience the abundant and fruitful Christian life.
 
God Bless You
Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. They requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. Festus answered, “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.”After spending eight or ten days with them, Festus went down to Caesarea. The next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him. They brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them.

Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”