Acts 22

            You have a story to tell.  We all do.  Your story is as special, powerful, and unique as anybody’s.  Every person’s story is interesting, compelling, and needs to be told.
            In today’s New Testament lesson, the Apostle Paul, considered the greatest follower of Christ of all time, tells his story.  Paul was a Jew, an upwardly mobile mover-and-shaker within his world.  He despised Christians and saw them as an aberration to the true worship of God.
            But Paul had a life-changing encounter with Jesus.  He was not expecting it.  It slammed him upside the head like a divine baseball bat.  Whereas Paul really believed he was serving God by persecuting Christians, now he came face-to-face with the true reality that he was doing just the opposite – persecuting God!
            As a result, Paul did a complete turn-around to a new life.  He became a faithful Christian, and took the good news of forgiveness of Christ to the known world.  And Paul knew something of forgiveness.  Paul never got over the grace shown to him.
            This chapter of Holy Scripture is a good template for you to tell your own story.  As you read Paul’s story, notice that he talked of life before being a Christian; the circumstances that happened for him to believe in Jesus Christ; and, talks about what his life after becoming a Christian was all about.
            A good, profitable, and healthy practice for you to do is to sit down and jot some thoughts down about your life before Christ, how you came to Christ, and what your life after becoming a Christian is like.  Let your life-changing Christian event shape the story – whether it was like Paul’s, or a baptism, a church service experience, a family crisis, or whatever it was – the act of writing will help you make sense of your unique and special narrative.

 

            Just as important, tell your story to others.  There are people in your sphere of influence that need to hear what God has done in your life.  They are in your life by God’s gracious design.  You need to do this for their sake, and for your own.  You have a story to tell.  Let it out, my friend.

Romans 7:14-25

            “I don’t understand why I act the way I do.  I don’t do what I know is right.  I do the things I hate.”  Paul’s existential angst is a timeless description of our common human condition.  We all can relate to the seeming inability to do what is right in so many situations.  It can really drive us nuts, even to a constant low-level discouragement that underlies almost everything we do.
 
            Paul’s prescription for dealing with this does not rely on law.  That’s right.  Paul understood that putting our willpower and effort into obeying commands gets us nowhere because we will eventually fail.  The law just shows us how bad off we really are in this world.  We are a bundle of contradictions, doing good, then bad, and flip-flopping back and forth with great frustration.
 
            “What a miserable person I am.  Who will rescue me from this body of that is doomed to die?  Thank God! Jesus Christ will rescue me.”  Sheer willpower and obedience will not work because what we really need is a Savior who will deliver us from ourselves.  Grace, then, is the operative power that changes lives, and not law.  Freedom from the tyranny of our misplaced desires comes from Christ’s forgiveness through the cross.  Like a lover enamored with his beloved, our desires become oriented toward Jesus for his indescribable gift to us.  That is the strength of grace.
 

 

            Saving God, I thank you for delivering me from sin, death, and hell through your Son, the Lord Jesus.  May your Holy Spirit apply the work of grace to my life every day so that I can realize practical freedom from all that is damaging and destructive in my soul.  Amen.

Galatians 2:11-14

            “When Peter came to Antioch, I told him face to face that he was wrong… I corrected Peter in front of everyone.”  The Apostle Paul confronted the Apostle Peter on a matter of hypocrisy.  This was not just any run-of-the-mill hypocrisy.  What Peter was doing was totally out of sync with the gospel that they both proclaimed:  that forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ is for all people, Jew and Gentile, whom both together make up Christ’s Church.  Out of fear of his fellow Jews, Peter began withdrawing from his Gentile brothers in Christ.  That stinking fear will get us every time.  At the heart of every hypocrite is a spirit of fear that keeps him/her in bondage to the wishes of others.
 
            Whereas Peter was deepening into the world of learned helplessness and terminal niceness, Paul chose to operate in the world of seeing all things through the lenses of the gospel and confronting that which had nothing to do with it.  Please note that Paul rebuked Peter, and not every single person who came along who didn’t agree with him.  They were both part of the apostles’ fraternity, and each had both a right and responsibility to confront and rebuke when needed within that fellowship.
 
            I live in Mid-West America.  We, like Peter, suffer from the malady of sometimes being too nice for our own good.  If we aren’t careful, we can be pleasant and affable to people to their face, but then turn around and speak ugly words and do our own thing behind someone’s back.  Our hypocrisy is born of the fear that we might hurt someone’s feelings.  But we need to grab ahold of the fact that our hypocrisy hurts God’s feelings, and he will call us to account for our fearful ways.  God does not want us hiding our true feelings, but bringing them into the light of the gospel so that the church can be built up and thrive in grace.
 

 

            Holy God, you desire grace and truth in all relationships.  Help me to speak with boldness, in a spirit of mercy and integrity, so that there will be growth and spiritual fruit in all of my relationships through Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen.

Acts 26:19-29

            Paul was quite the guy.  He was a zealous missionary to Gentiles, indefatigable, and an intense type-A kind of dude.  But it wasn’t those characteristics that Paul was looking for others to see in him.  Paul simply wanted others to see Christ in him.  Having been arrested for preaching the gospel, Paul found himself before King Agrippa making a strong apologetic for Christian faith.  The DTR talk is one worth examining and emulating.  Agrippa’s response to Paul was, “In such a short time do you think you can talk me into being a Christian?”  Paul answered, “Whether it takes a short time or a long time, I wish you and everyone else who hears me today would become just like me!”
 
            I wonder how many of us could confidently say the same thing as Paul.  Are we the kind of Christians that we would want others to emulate?  Has our faith journey led us to the place of being a solid model of what a follower of Christ should look like?  Do we expect others to change while avoiding change ourselves?  Do we deeply desire and work toward others coming to know Jesus?  What is on your wish list?
 
·         I wish every non-Christian in my community would come to know Jesus as the gracious Savior and risen Lord of their lives.
·         I wish every single member of my church would spend all their relational and emotional capital in this life leading others to Jesus Christ.
·         I wish every person I encounter would have the merciful privilege of knowing Christ like I have been privileged to know Him.
·         I wish all my parishioners would become just like me, except, of course, for my self-made chains.
·         I wish every person on planet earth would become a Christian.
 

 

Risen and ascended Lord, you are the king of all creation.  May your rule and reign take over my life to such a degree that everything that comes out of my mouth, and every action I take would be worthy of emulation in your way of love.  Amen.

Philippians 1:12-18

            It was President Ronald Reagan who said, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”  The ability to have a disinterest in attention and freedom from selfishness comes from a place of humility and strength – the strength to know oneself well and be secure in that knowledge, as well as the humility to care more about the cause than self.
 
            The Apostle Paul had so learned humility from his Lord, and was so thoroughly convinced of the gospel’s centrality that he did not care who got the credit when it came to proclaiming Jesus.  “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will….  The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
 
            The burning, driving, constant, and passionate pursuit of Paul was the advance of the gospel.  He wanted the entire world to know Jesus Christ crucified, risen from death, ascended and coming again.  And Paul would do anything and drain himself of every drop of self-centeredness in order to champion that great cause of seeing people repent and believe the gospel.
 
            Is your heart enamored with Jesus?  Is it hot with the desire to see the gospel of grace transform the world?  Do you lay awake at night wondering how to introduce Jesus to others?  Is the great cause of your life to find ways of meeting the world’s deep need with the deep love of Christ?  Attention and recognition are overrated.  Instead, give up your life and you will find it.
 

 

            Gracious God, thank you for the example of your servant Paul.  I rejoice in what you did in and through his life.  I am available for your purposes.  Use me in the advance of your gospel of grace so that I might more fully participate in your grand forgiveness mission.  Amen.