What’s On Your Wish List? (Acts 26:24-29)

Before Paul finished defending himself, Festus shouted, “Paul, you’re crazy! Too much learning has driven you out of your mind.”

But Paul replied, “Honorable Festus, I am not crazy. What I am saying is true, and it makes sense. None of these things happened off in a corner somewhere. I am sure that King Agrippa knows what I am talking about. That’s why I can speak so plainly to him.”

Then Paul said to Agrippa, “Do you believe what the prophets said? I know you do.”

Agrippa asked Paul, “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! Except, of course, for these chains.” (Contemporary English Version)

The Apostle Paul was quite the guy – a zealous, indefatigable, intense, Type-A dude. Yet it wasn’t those characteristics that Paul wanted others to see in him. He simply desired others to see Christ in him. 

Having been arrested for preaching the good news of forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ, Paul found himself before King Agrippa, engaging in a DTR (define the relationship) talk; and making a strong apologetic for the Christian faith. 

Agrippa asked Paul, “In such a short time do you think you can talk me into being a Christian?” Paul answered with confidence and conviction, “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!” 

“Trial of the Apostle Paul” by Nikolai Bodarevsky, 1875

I wonder how many of us could boldly say the same thing as Paul. 

Are we the sort of Christians that others could 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? 

So, what is on your wish list?

  • I wish each Christian everywhere would spend their relational and emotional energy making this world a better place by living into the words and ways of Jesus Christ.
  • I wish every person I encounter would have the privilege of knowing Christ as I have.
  • I wish all my parishioners and patients would become what I am, except, of course, for my self-made chains.

Perhaps we all must look in the mirror and examine our true desires. It’s easy to put our energy into good yet lesser wishes in life. Yet, if Christians are to become like their ancient forefather in the faith, the Apostle Paul, we will begin focusing our energies into things such as the following:

  • Making outreach a priority. We do what is most important to us. That’s probably self-evident. But churches and believers that do not make outreach a primary priority are really making it no priority, at all.

Paul said, “Do the work of telling the Good News. Do all the duties of a servant of God.” (2 Timothy 4:5, ERV)

  • Mentoring others into the words and ways of Jesus. Many church laypersons believe that training other Christians is what we pay the clergy to do.But this is really the responsibility of every believer.

Paul said, “You have often heard me teach. Now I want you to tell these same things to followers who can be trusted to tell others.” (2 Timothy 2:2, CEV)

  • Taking responsibility for spreading the good news. Blaming and shaming gets us nowhere. Pastors complain about churches. Churches bellyache about Pastors. And both attack the culture, the denomination, or some other external scapegoat. It’s time for all of us to own what needs to be said and done.

Paul said, “Be ready to spread the word whether or not the time is right. Point out errors, warn people, and encourage them. Be very patient when you teach.” (2 Timothy 4:2, GW)

  • Connecting prayer with telling the message of Christ. It doesn’t take a lot of energy to pray for Aunt Mable’s bunions to go away. It’s altogether another thing to pray sustained, focused, and passionate prayers for the people in my life to know Christ and him crucified, risen, ascended, and coming again.

Paul said, “Don’t forget to pray for us, that God will open doors for telling the mystery of Christ… Pray that every time I open my mouth I’ll be able to make Christ plain as day to them.” (Colossians 4:3-4, MSG)

  • Being compassionate and kind, like Christ, to others. There not only needs to be a clear articulation of the gospel, but also a clear demonstration of basic human kindness. Many Christians never get the opportunity to share the gospel because they’re just downright obnoxious.

Set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience. (1 Peter 3:15-16, NET)

  • Establishing every Christian ministry as an opportunity to share the gospel. Intentional effort and energy toward proclaiming the gospel in both word and deed needs to go into everything we do.

Paul said, “So take special care how you conduct yourselves. Don’t be unwise but be wise. Make use of any opportunity you have because these are wicked times we live in.” (Ephesians 5:15-16, NTE)

  • Caring, not at all, that new Christians will change our lives or our church too much. I’m serious. I’ve heard the line many times by church folk in my years of pastoral ministry that new believers come in and change things we like. Come on, man. Get over it. Change is built into the Christian experience. God said:

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19, NRSV)

You don’t need a personality like the Apostle Paul to live into your calling as a Christian. You and I only need to put our will and energy into things that matter most to God.

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.

Psalm 75 – Don’t Talk Out the Side of Your Neck

We give thanks to you, O God;
    we give thanks; your name is near.
People tell of your wondrous deeds.

At the set time that I appoint,
    I will judge with equity.
When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants,
    it is I who keep its pillars steady.
I say to the boastful, “Do not boast,”
    and to the wicked, “Do not lift up your horn;
do not lift up your horn on high
    or speak with insolent neck.”

For not from the east or from the west
    and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
but it is God who executes judgment,
    putting down one and lifting up another.
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
    with foaming wine, well mixed;
he will pour a draught from it,
    and all the wicked of the earth
    shall drain it down to the dregs.
But I will rejoice forever;
    I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.

All the horns of the wicked I will cut off,
    but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted. (New Revised Standard Version)

Way back in my college days, there were some lively characters within my group of friends and acquaintances. One of those friends had a phrase he called people out on, whenever he discerned there was some sort of insincerity or disingenuous talk… 

“Quit talkin’ out the side o’ ya’ neck!” he would say with a great deal of flavor. My friend’s phrase perfectly captures the psalmist when he exhorts the boastful person not to speak with an insolent or haughty neck.

Indeed, God will judge everyone on earth with equity, without favoritism. The Lord has no tolerance for evil speech. 

A telltale sign of the wicked is that they show ingratitude; they aren’t thankful. An ungracious boss will always point out mistakes and missteps; and rarely or never seeks to affirm someone for a job well-done. In those rare times when a “thanks” is given, its so mechanical that the person receiving feels the abject insincerity of it.

The parent who sparingly expresses gratitude tends to liberally correct and discipline, leaving the child in a pool of guilt and shame. Folks who enjoy airing their own opinions are usually bereft of thanksgiving; they leave in their wake of harsh words a group of angry or discouraged people.

You will likely not hear any of the aforementioned persons forthrightly declare the mighty acts of God. Rather, they highlight their own actions, even stealing the deserved attention of another onto themselves. Yet, the arrogant and insolent person will meet their match with the sovereign God who humbles and exalts according to divine standards of justice, mercy, and love.

Instead of talking out the side of our necks, the godly use their tongues in a different manner: They give thanks and practice gratitude for God’s wondrous deeds. 

The way to avoid the hubris of the proud person is to use our speech for thanksgiving. Humble, encouraging, and generous words cannot co-exist in the same sentence as insincere proud boasting. 

Freedom from useless, selfish, and harmful gibberish requires more than a decision to stop talking that way; it also includes a determination to speak words of encouragement, gratitude, and kindness. The following can be helpful advice when facing our own pride:

  1. Confess when you’re wrong. Acknowledge and admit the sinful speech without trying to put a spin on it to make it sound less offensive. Ask what you can do to make it right. Ask for forgiveness.
  2. Lighten up, man. Don’t take things so seriously. Learn to laugh at yourself. We all have our quirks, and we all make mistakes. Most stuff isn’t worth getting upset over. And some people are definitely not worth giving the satisfaction of making you get in a huff. Let it go, dude.
  3. Be good to yourself. Treat yourself with greater kindness. Arrogance is often a byproduct of failing to practice healthy self-care. Whenever we are obsessed with looking good and being good, we place unrealistic expectations not only on ourselves, but others, as well. It comes out in a “I-know-what-is-best-so-do-what-I-say” sort of attitude.
  4. Wake up and realize you are not always right. Arrogant people tend to think they are right most of the time, that their truth is the only truth that really matters. You’ve probably been wrong more than you realize, but arrogance tends to blind us to our own shortcomings. Not every battle is worth fighting. Sometimes you just have to smile and let things go.
  5. Learn to delegate. Let other people take the lead. Humility allows us to serve under another person or as a less dominant member of a team. Other people are not nincompoops. You aren’t the only one who can do the job.
  6. Ask for help. It takes humility to ask for help.Arrogant people wrongly believe they can do it themselves, especially thinking they are the best person for everything. Old Satan still believes he can do a better job of running the world than God. Don’t be like Satan.
  7. Offer meaningful encouragement and thanks. Go out of your way to build up others and thank them for their efforts and the job they did.
  8. Treat everyone with respect. No matter their position or station in life, acknowledge each human being as worthy of kindness and respect.

Remembering God’s gracious works in the world, and using our tongues to recount them, has the effect of putting us in our proper place and shooing away the arrogance.

One way of expressing gratitude to God is to take a few minutes each day, pause, and give thanks for the things you notice. 

If you take a walk, be intentional about noticing God’s creation. Then, give thanks for the specific things you see. At your workplace, take note of the blessings around you, and express gratitude for each of them. At home, notice the simple pleasures of being with family and be sure to offer God praise for them. 

For, if we do not observe the Lord in the common and the mundane, we will likely miss God when he shows up in the dramatic and the awesome.

Almighty God, you are the rightful Judge of all the earth. Today I forsake all proud and haughty speech, and, instead, give thanks to you for your mighty acts of salvation and deliverance in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Romans 2:1-11 – Against Criticism and Judgment

Some of you accuse others of doing wrong. But there is no excuse for what you do. When you judge others, you condemn yourselves, because you are guilty of doing the very same things. We know that God is right to judge everyone who behaves in this way. Do you really think God won’t punish you, when you behave exactly like the people you accuse? You surely don’t think much of God’s wonderful goodness or of his patience and willingness to put up with you. Don’t you know that the reason God is good to you is because he wants you to turn to him?

But you are stubborn and refuse to turn to God. So, you are making things even worse for yourselves on that day when he will show how angry he is and will judge the world with fairness. God will reward each of us for what we have done. He will give eternal life to everyone who has patiently done what is good in the hope of receiving glory, honor, and life that lasts forever. But he will show how angry and furious he can be with every selfish person who rejects the truth and wants to do evil. All who are wicked will be punished with trouble and suffering. It doesn’t matter if they are Jews or Gentiles. But all who do right will be rewarded with glory, honor, and peace, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. God doesn’t have any favorites! (Contemporary English Version)

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

Carl Jung

Since it is the Christian season of Lent, the Revised Common Lectionary freights the readings with biblical sections about repentance. It can be a hard slog, this inner work we are called to do. Yet, it leads to the peaceable fruit of righteousness for those spiritual athletes who train their souls for the will of God.

One of the first lessons we learn in our desert journey through Lent is that judgment belongs to God, not us.

Claiming the moniker of self-appointed Judge will, ironically, get one judged. There is only one true Judge. And Judge Jesus renders decisions which are always right, just, and fair, with no favoritism, cronyism, or malice.

A critical spirit is an evil spirit. It vaults oneself over and above others who are viewed as inferior, unworthy of love and belonging. It is the very antithesis of Christ’s way of being in the world with others.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Church at Rome, merely upheld the teaching of his Lord Jesus, who said:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2, NRSV)

Although most people would affirm that showing favoritism is a bad thing, in practice we have a difficult time avoiding it – especially in polarizing times such as ours. Political mudslinging is (unfortunately) a time-honored American tradition. And so is religious judgmentalism.

Some of the most emotionally laden vitriol comes from folks who are so heavily entrenched in their religious convictions that they believe any deviation from their way of belief is worthy of scathing criticism.

People, however, do not change because someone criticizes or judges them. They experience transformation through basic divine and human kindness.

As a hospital chaplain in a behavioral health unit, I wholeheartedly affirm this to be true. Many patients have been told repeatedly by family or friends to stop their destructive behavior or thinking, get their lives together, move on, wake up, etc. – all with the condescending edge of criticizing judgment.

Yet, when someone takes notice, is curious about them, treats them like a fellow person, offers helpful encouragement, and a listening ear without trying to fix, souls become open to receiving the healing grace of love and truth.

God shows no partiality, and neither should we, period.

God is right, just, and fair in all dealings with everyone. The Lord judges according to divine standards of righteousness and mercy – no matter one’s race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, or social standing. And it is all laced with the love and compassion of Christ.

Christians are not exempt or given a pass on being judgmental, as if owning multiple Bibles or giving lots of money exempts one from a wagging tongue and an insensitive spirit.

Our own unhealthy practices, bad habits, and angry outbursts will be treated just like any non-Christian by God. In a time when decrying the moral condition of our world is nearly a spectator sport, the New Testament lesson for today reminds us that we must first be concerned for the condition of our own hearts before we can point the finger at another.

If we want revival in the land and repentance from others, then it must first be directed and practiced by oneself.

We all equally stand in need of God’s grace in Jesus.  There is a symbiotic relationship between our actions and the state of our hearts.  A soft and tender heart toward God leads to obedience; disobedience hardens the heart and leads to God’s wrath, no matter the individual.

So, it will help if we all faithfully engage in daily spiritual practices which keep our hearts attentive and alert to God’s will and way. 

No matter how busy we are, or how we feel, to forego or ignore the Word of God and prayer on a regular basis will slowly calcify our hearts and render them unable to respond rightly to grace. Instead, we can drink deeply of the gospel throughout every day so that we may experience peace.

A critical spirit begins to melt away when the tools of empathy, compassion, understanding, and acceptance are used to forge connections and provide support.

It takes no training to bludgeon someone with condemning criticism. However, it takes repeated practice to speak and act with grace, mercy, and peace, especially when we are stressed and/or anxious about our surrounding circumstances.

“Be curious, not judgmental.”

Walt Whitman

Instead of judgment, observe and be curious. Seek more information. Ask clarifying questions. Expand the gap between observation and conclusion.

The ability to have an awareness of one’s own emotions, to be mindful of self and surroundings, and to do it all with neither criticism nor judgment is perhaps the highest form of intelligence and spirituality.

Kindness is what leads others to repentance, not condemnation. Grace has the final word, not judgment. So, let us be blessed through a gentle spirit which spreads the goodness of God throughout the world.

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, we have sinned against you, through our own fault, in thought, and word, and deed, and in what we have left undone. For the sake of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, forgive us all our offenses and grant that we may serve you in newness of life, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Where Will We Do Our Ministry?

Welcome, friends! The Great Commission of Jesus is to go and make other disciples. To “go” doesn’t exclusively mean to travel to another place or overseas. It mostly involves the willingness to get up, go, and walk across the street, or even just across the room. Click the videos below and let us consider together how we can be the heart, hands, and feet of Jesus to the folks around us….

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, Matthew 28:18-20

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.