THE APOSTLE PAUL #15

09/22/2020

For several weeks we’ve been watching the Apostle Paul demonstrate the love of God and represent the presence of God in front of a humanistic, materialistic, hostile, unbelieving world.  Paul was taken into protective custody when a riot broke out around him in Jerusalem.  The Roman Governor, Felix wanted to let him go, but Paul kept appealing his case.  This morning, Paul is being sent to Rome to be tried by Caesar.   

Acts 27:1 – “When it was decided that we should sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a Centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment.”

“When it was decided that we should sail for Italy…”  As far as Paul was concerned, all the events and circumstances of his life had already been “decided” a long time ago.  Back when he was known as “Saul,” he was travelling to Damascus to arrest the followers of Jesus.  A bright light from heaven knocked him to the ground.  That’s the day Paul found out that God wasn’t who he thought He was. 

That’s the day Paul discovered that God knew his name and He had a purpose for his life.  It was there; it was then; while he was lying blind on that road, that Paul made what turned out to be the last, the greatest and most important decision of his life.  He decided to open his heart and surrender his life to Jesus.  While he was lying there blinded on the ground, he cried out, “Lord, what shall I do?” (Acts 22:10) and he gave his life over to Christ. 

From that moment on, his present and his future were completely in God’s hands and it was the Lord who decided; it was the Lord who directed the outcome of every event and circumstance in Paul’s life.  God had decided that Paul should go to Jerusalem.  

Paul told the Elders of the Church in Ephesus that he was “compelled by the (Holy) Spirit” to go to Jerusalem; “Not knowing what will happen to me there.”  It doesn’t matter what will happen to me there, God is calling me to Jerusalem.  Then, when an angry mob was trying to tear him to pieces in Jerusalem, it had already been “decided” that he was going to Rome.   

Acts 23:11 “…The Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’”

That’s really when it had been decided that they should sail for Italy. That’s why, regardless of what was happening to him; regardless of what people were trying to do to him; regardless of what his future looked like, Paul was always able to be say, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11)

Since the day he first met Jesus, Paul was always content.  He always had peace.  He was never afraid because he knew his God caused all things to work together for his good and God’s purpose and glory. 

Acts 27: 2 –  “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.”

There’s quite a diverse mixture of people on board that little ship.  In addition to Paul, there’s the captain and the crew.  They’re the professionals, the experts; the problem solvers; the ones you put your trust in to get you safely where you want to go. 

Then there were the Roman Soldiers; the authorities, the ones in charge; the ones making the rules; the ones with all the power.  Then there were the other prisoners; the real criminals, murderers, thieves; truly dangerous people. 

Several of Paul’s friends, other believers were on that ship with him; friends like Aristarchus the Macedonian and Luke who was writing all this down.  That ship was pretty typical of the kind of world we’re living in today; a world where Christians are in the minority and non-Christians make the rules. 

We have our professionals, our experts; the ones we elect or hire to solve all the world’s problems.  There are people in power making decisions that shape the direction and the future of this planet.  We have our share of “bad people,” dangerous criminals.

 But most people in the world today believe that because they’re not dangerous criminals, they’re not bad people.  And since they’re not bad people, they must be good people and they’d just like to be left alone.  You live your life and let me live mine.  We all live in the same little world and whatever happens to one of us affects all of us.    

 Acts 27:3 “The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs.”

How strange is that?  Julius, the Roman Commander, “in kindness,” releases one of his prisoners to let him spend some time with his friends so they could “provide for his needs.”  He was taking a big risk doing something like that.  If Paul had escaped, it would have cost Julius his life.  Sometimes non-Christians can be kinder and more compassionate than some of us who call ourselves “Christians.”

 But Paul was no ordinary prisoner.  The Commander could see he was different.  For some reason, Julius believed he could trust Paul.  He was so sure Paul wouldn’t try to escape, he released him to see his friends.   

Acts 27: 4-8 – “From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us….we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind would not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete…We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens.”  

 This trip is quickly turning out to be a lot more difficult and a lot more stressful than anyone expected it to be because of the surprisingly rough seas with its high waves and strong winds.  There was a growing sense of uneasiness on that ship, but no one seemed worried because the experts were in charge.  They’d been through this many times before.  They’ve got everything under control.  They know what they’re doing.  Everybody managed to live in ignorant bliss until things went from difficult to dangerous.   

Acts 29:9a –  “Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Feast.” (Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. September) 

These might be problems the problem-solvers can’t solve  Maybe the experts don’t know what they’re doing this time.   Lord willing, we’ll pick this up from here next time.

THE APOSTLE PAUL #14

09/15/2020

            The Apostle Paul has been falsely accused of stirring up trouble among the Jews by preaching against Moses, against God, and against the law. His case has been bouncing back and forth in the Jewish and Roman legal systems for quite a while. Paul has been taking advantage of this process by using it as an opportunity to preach the gospel and share his testimony.

            When we left off last time, as Paul was witnessing to King Agrippa, Governor Festus interrupted him and accused Paul of being crazy. Paul is about to show Governor Festus that he is not the one who is crazy.

Acts 26:25 “’I am not insane, most excellent Festus,’ Paul replied, ‘What I am saying is true and reasonable.’”

I’m not going to apologize for my testimony. I have become what I am because of Jesus. My life is a result of God’s divine mercy, love, and grace.

            Acts 26:26-27 “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. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.’”

If not Festus, when you’re sharing your testimony or telling your story, you might find yourself talking to someone like King Agrippa; someone who’s curious but comfortable; someone who knows a lot of doctrine but doesn’t want God to get too close; someone who believes that not too close is close enough for them.  Someone who says, “I’ll believe what I want to believe, what I’ve always believed because what I believe is right for me.” 

Acts 26:28“The King Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’”

“Are you trying to make a Christian out of me, Paul?” You must think I’m crazy if you think I’m going to believe what you’re telling me. 

I have an answer, King Agrippa.  I have a defense.  I have a hope and I have a story.  No matter where I’ve been, King Agrippa; regardless of what I may be struggling with; whatever battles I may be fighting; The Lord has always been with me. 

“I have had God’s help to this very day.”(Acts 26:22)   The Lord has never ignored me; never abandoned me; never given up on me; never failed to provide everything I’ve needed.   

Acts 26:29  “Paul replied, ‘Short time or long time – I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’”

 If you never get another thing out of what I’ve just said to you King Agrippa, I hope you can tell how much I care about you and I want you to have the same hope and the same joy in your life that I’ve found

When the Lord provides an opportunity, tell them your story. Tell them even if it looks like they were sorry they asked.  Tell them what you used to be.  Tell them what happened.  Tell them how your life has changed because of Jesus; and tell them what Jesus is doing in your life right now.  Tell them your story even if it seems to fall on deaf ears; even if it seems like you’ve been wasting your breath.

 We don’t really know the impact Paul’s story had on Festus or Agrippa, but when Paul was done talking, neither of them could claim they had never heard the Gospel.  And Paul  told his story in a gentle and respectful way.  His conscience was clear.  Anyone who spoke evil about him now would be ashamed when they saw the good life he was living because he belonged to Jesus.  Paul had definitely given them both a lot to think about. 

People are wandering around through life with a lot of emptiness inside them; desperately trying to find some meaning, some direction; some answers; some hope.  Their lives are very superficial, very materialistic and very temporary.  They need to hear our stories.  They may not be quick to receive them, but they definitely need to hear them.        

We can’t be stumbling around looking for the right words to say when someone puts us on the spot.  We can’t keep beating ourselves up thinking back over the things we could have said or should have said.  Be ready.  Have an answer.  Prepare your story.  Use Paul’s outline if it will make it easier for you.  Prepare your defense.  I guarantee you, if you’re committed to Christ as the Lord of your life, you’re going to have to explain it to somebody someday.

Acts 26:30-31 “The king rose and with him, the governor, and Bernice and those sitting with them. They left the room and while talking with one another, they said, ’This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.’”

I’m thankful that I wasn’t called for jury duty in this trial because it would have driven me crazy. The non-believing world stands back and sees Christian religious people arguing and bickering over their personal doctrines and they can’t understand what all the fuss is about. They just know they don’t want anything to do with it.

            Acts 26:32 “Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.’”

            Festus is back to square one. He was hoping that King Agrippa would settle this matter for him so he wouldn’t have to deal with it. Since Festus can’t seem to make a  decision and King Agrippa wasn’t able to do anything, Festus now plans to pass this all off to Caesar.

            Next time, Lord willing, will sail along with Paul as he makes his way to Rome. Plan to stay in God’s Word with Pastor Buj.

THE APOSTLE PAUL #13

09/08/2020

The apostle Paul has been falsely accused of stirring up trouble among the Jews by preaching against the Temple, against Moses and against the law. Now, in Acts 26, Paul has the opportunity to defend himself –  to King Agrippa, to Governor Festus and to Caesar. The door is wide open for Paul to share his testimony.

Acts 26:1b-3 “So Paul motioned with his hand and began is 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.’”

”I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense.”   I’m thankful for the opportunity to tell you my story; for the opportunity to tell you about the differences, about the changes Jesus has made in my life.

This is not about giving someone the plan of salvation.  This is about telling someone the difference Jesus has made in your life. If it will make it easier for you, just use Paul’s outline. 

Break your story down into four parts. Start off by telling them …

(1) WHAT YOU USED TO BE. Tell them what you used to think.  Tell them what you did before Jesus came into your life.  

 Acts 26: 4-5    “The Jews all know the way I lived ever since I was a child…They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee.”

Acts 26:9-11  “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the Chief Priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one Synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to  foreign cities to persecute them.”

This part of our story may not nearly be as exciting or dramatic as Paul’s.  Most of us think our life is pretty dull and ordinary and no one would be interested in hearing about it.  But it’s not up to us to make it interesting or exciting or funny.  The Lord just wants us to tell our story and let the Holy Spirit turn it into what it needs to be.  Never underestimate the power of your story on someone else’s life.

 When we talk about what we used to be, we can tell them about our temper; our selfishness and our pride.  We can tell them about our critical spirit, our old fears and anxieties.  But we begin by telling them, what we were like without Jesus.  Then…

 (2) We can TELL THEM WHAT HAPPENED. Tell them how Jesus first got our attention.  Tell them where we were and what we were doing when Jesus made His presence and His love real to us.  

Acts 26: 12-15   “”On one of these journeys, I was going to Damascus…About noon…I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions…I heard a voice saying to me…’Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’…Then I asked, ‘Who are you Lord?’ ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.’”

  Was there ever a time when you discovered that your beliefs about God were wrong and God wasn’t who you thought He was; a time when the Lord made you aware of the danger you were in because of your sin; a time when you finally realized you could never do anything to earn God’s love or deserve His forgiveness and you cried out to Him to save you?  If there was a time like that for you, tell them about it.

 Tell them how you came to know that you needed Jesus and what you did about it.  Tell them what happened.  Then go on to tell them..

 (3) TELL THEM HOW YOUR LIFE HAS CHANGED.  Tell them how Jesus has given your life a sense of purpose and direction. Tell them how He’s has given you hope; an understanding of what’s real; what works; what satisfies; what lasts; what never lets you down.

Acts 26: 16-18 “The Lord replied…I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 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.”

Tell them what you used to be.  Tell them what happened.  Tell how your life has changed; Then…

(4) Tell them WHAT JESUS IS DOING IN YOUR LIFE TODAY  

Acts 26: 19-24  “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven…I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. That is why the Jews seized me…and tried to kill me. But I have had God’s help to this very day…I am saying beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen – that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to His own people and to the Gentiles.”

 You might find yourself talking to someone like Festus; someone who’s hearing all this for the first time and they think you’re crazy.          

Acts 26:24   “At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘You great learning is driving you insane.’” 

This was all new and sounded pretty strange to Festus.  He just curious about what Paul believed.  He wasn’t planning to pursue it for himself.  His heart was hardened and his ears were closed to the things Paul was telling him.   He’s probably sorry he got involved in this conversation. But since he brought it up, Paul was gladly willing to explain.  Paul was always ready to give an answer for his hope in Christ.  

Lord willing, we’ll continue to look at Paul’s response to Festus and King Agrippa next Tuesday.

THE APOSTLE PAUL #12

09/01/2020

Governor Festus, who’s been charged with the responsibility of keeping the peace in Jeruslem, is trying to figure out why a city full of religious people literally wants to tear a seemingly innocent man to pieces. He’s asking his brother-in-law, King Heerod Agrippa II, to explain it to him.

Acts 25: 16-20  “I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over any man before he has faced his accusers and has had an opportunity to defend himself against their charges…When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. I was at a loss how to investigate such matters. So I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there for these charges.” 

“It is not the Roman custom…I was at a loss to know how to investigate such matters.”  I don’t even know where to begin.  Your culture and your religion all seem very strange to me.  I’m an outsider, but I’m trying to make some sense out of your beliefs, your faith and your behavior.  I don’t profess to be a religious person, but where I come from, we don’t judge or condemn anybody until they’ve faced their accusers and had a chance to defend themselves.  We listen to what others are saying about them and judge them by he evidence we see.  We give them the punishment we think they deserve.

Acts  25:21  “When Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emporer’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Ceasar.”

 I’m sending him to Caesar.  Caesar is our god.  When someone is accused of breaking the law, we let Caesar decide who’s innocent and who’s guilty.  You claim to be religious people.  You’re accusing him of committing some kind of religious crime, why don’t you hand him over to YOUR God and let HIM decide whether this man innocent or guilty? Why are all of you acting like the judge, the jury and the executioner?

 Do you really want to kill him just because he claims a dead man is still alive?  What kind of crazy justice system are you people running here; and you think WE’RE the Barbarians? Explain it to me Agrippa.  

Acts 25: 22-23   Then Agrippa said to Festus, ‘I would like to hear this man myself.’ He replied,  ‘Tomorrow you will hear him.’ The next day, Agrippa and Berniece came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and leaders of the city.”  

“Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp.” 

Church people have a way of appearing pompous in the eyes of non-believers sometimes.  Who does Agrippa think he is? Does he think he’s more important than Festus; better than Festus?

  Agrippa was supposed to be “the king of the Jews;” and I’m sure he believed he was.  But Rome didn’t take him seriously.  Even his own people didn’t take him seriously.  When Pontius Pilate stood Jesus in front of an angry mob, Pilate asked, “Do you want me to crucify your king?”  The crowd shouted back, “We have no king but Caesar.”

This always reminds me of that popular TV sitcom in the 50’s called ”The Honeymooners” staring Jackie Gleason and Audrie Meadows. Ralph Cramden would say, “I’m the king, Alice.  You’re nothin’!”  And Alice would reply “I guess that makes you the king of nothin’.”

 Agrippa was definitely “the king of nothin’.”  Israel was now part of the Roman Empire and Caesar was the Emperor, the king of kings.  Agrippa could think whatever he wanted to think about himself.  But the truth is, that in spite of all the pomp, he wasn’t really a king.  He wasn’t even free.  He was just as much a slave to Rome as everybody else.  He just didn’t like to think about it.  He didn’t want to admit it. 

We may act like we’re holy and special, but the world doesn’t see us that way.  All we will ever be are sinners, cleansed, forgiven and saved by God’s grace.  

Acts 25: 24-27  “…I found he has done nothing deserving of death, but because he has made his appeal to the Emporer, I decided to send him to Rome, But I have nothing definite to write to his majesty about him. So I have brought him before all of you…so that as a result of this investigation, I mqy have something to write. For I think it unreasonable to send on a prisoner without specifying the charges against him.”

Help me fill out the paper work, Agrippa.  How do I explain this to Caesar?  Why would this man (anyone) prefer to be judged by his enemies in Rome than be judged by his friends in Jerusalem? 

Where will he get a fairer trial?  Where will he receive more compassion and understanding?  Who has more patience?  Who will show him more grace, my world or your “Church?”

This man, Paul, has done nothing wrong.  He truly is innocent, but religious, God-fearing, Bible-believing people keep shouting, “Rid the world of him.  He ought not to live any longer” (Acts 25:24)  If they can do that to someone like him, what would they do to someone like me? 

Where can I go if I’m not perfect?  Who will still love me if I’m flawed?  Who will be patient with me?  Who will listen to me?  Who will treat me with more compassion and understanding; the church or the world? 

Where can I go when I’m no longer guilty; when I’ve repented, paid the price and been forgiven?  Who will accept me?  Who will trust me? Who will stop judging me? 

We need to show the world the difference between religion and faith.  Religion is all in the head.  It’s on paper.  Faith is the product of a changed heart.  We want the world to see the difference between Church people and believers.

 Church people go to church.  They think they’re good people and they’re going to heaven because they go to church.  Believers know they’re sinners, but they’ll be in heaven because of God’s grace and they are trusting in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of their sin. 

Everyone who walks through the door of a church for the first time should know as soon as they step foot in that place that they don’t have to be perfect to be loved there.  In fact, the church is the perfect place to be if you’re not perfect.

Lord willing, we’ll pick this up again next Tuesday.

THE APOSTLE PAUL #11

08/25/2020

As we navigate through this passage of scripture together, I’d like us to be thinking about what non-believers see when they look at “the Church.”  What do non-believers learn about Jesus when they watch how “Christians” treat one another?  Is there a difference between Christian faith and Christian religion? 

The Jewish Rulers in Jerusalem want the Apostle Paul to be put to death.  They see him as a threat to their leadership because he’s been telling people that putting your faith in Jesus is more important than keeping the Law.  They’ve already decided to kill Paul but they’re trying to justify their actions by putting him on trial.  They’ve even paid witnesses to lie about him. 

Their plan has been complicated by the fact that Paul happens to be a Roman citizen so the Roman Government has gotten involved and they don’t want to hand Paul over to the Jewish leaders without first finding out what crimes, if any, has committed.  His case has been bouncing around in the Roman legal system for over two years and nobody seems to know what to do.

Last week, Governor Felix was summoned to Rome because of increasing unrest among the Jews in his province.  He was replaced by a man named Festus.  Festus comes to clean up the mess Felix left behind.   

Acts 25: 1-3    Three days after arriving in the provence, Festus went up from Caesarea to  Jerusalem, where chief priests and Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. They urgently 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.”

The first thing Festus is hit with is a petition from the prosecution.  The chief priests and elders from Jerusalem are asking for a change of venue for this trial.  They want the trial moved back to Jerusalem.  Paul seems to be getting a fair trial in Caesarea so they’ve planned to kill him before he even reaches Jerusalem.    

Acts 25: 4-5    “Festus answered, Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me and press charges against this man there, if he has done anything wrong.”

This whole Jewish culture is so new to me.  This whole mess seems to be a colossal waste of time.  Your petition for a change of venue is denied.  The trial will be held in Caesarea.    

 Acts 25: 6-7  After spending eight or ten days with them, he went down to Caesarea, and the next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. When Paul appeared, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing  many serious charges against him, which they could not prove.”

 Same old – same old.  Same old charges.  Still no proof.   

Acts 25:8  “Then Paul made his defense: ‘I have done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews or against the Temple or against Caesar.’”   

Same old defense.  I’m still not guilty.  I have done nothing wrong. 

 Acts 25: 9  “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?’” 

You haven’t broken any Roman laws Paul and Roman prisons can be pretty nasty.  Are you willing go back to Jerusalem and try to work this out with your own people?   You all believe in the same God.  Can’t you talk this over and work out some kind of solution yourselves? 

There are a lot of people who are “outside” the church, just like Festus; people who’ve never been to church or who haven’t been to church since they were children; people who can’t tell the difference between “church people” and “believers.” They can’t distinguish between the “church” as an organized religion and the church as a living spiritual body. 

They can’t distinguish between doctrine and faith.  They hear what we say but we keep confusing them by what we do; especially by what we do to each other.  We keep insisting they need to be like us.  We keep claiming to have found what they’re missing, but we’ve got them scratching their heads.

  Acts 25: 10-12  “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. 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.’”

  “I appeal to Caesar.” Where would I get a fairer trial; in Rome or in Jerusalem?  Where are sinners treated better; in the church or in the world?  When I’ve sinned; when I’ve made a mistake; when I’ve done something terrible or foolish; where will I find more compassion?  Who has more patience? Who gives more grace?  Who shows more mercy; the Church or the secular world?   

Acts 25: 13-15    A few days later, King Agrippa arrived at Caesarea to pay respects to Festus. Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king,”  

“Festus discussed Paul’s case with King Agrippa.”   He is actually King Agrippa II, the son of King Agrippa I. He’s the brother of Bernice and Governor Felix’s wife,  Drucilla.

Felix left a big mess behind him here.  I’ve only been here 3 days.  Please help me understand what’s going on here.  He hasn’t murdered anybody or stolen anything.  He really hasn’t broken any Roman laws, but he wants his case to be tried by Caesar.  This is a religious matter.  These seem to be doctrinal differences.  Do your people really want to kill him just because they don’t agree with what he’s saying?  How can such supposedly loving people possibly hate somebody so much?

Why are religious people so critical and judgmental?  Why are they so vindictive?    Help me out here.  I’m at a loss.  It is not the Roman custom.  It doesn’t make any sense to me.  Why should I be more like you?  Why should I want what you have?   Help me understand this, king.

Acts 25:12 – “After Felix had conferred with his council, he declared, ‘You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go.’”

I’ve just gone over mt limit of a thousand words. Lord willing, we’ll start from here next Tuesday. BTW, this is my first post from our new home in Lancaster, PA.

THE APOSTLE PAUL #10

08/18/2020

The Apostle Paul has made it unmistakably clear that his earthly life means nothing unless he is able to finish his “race” and complete the task the Lord has given him, the task of testifying to God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)  Governor Felix has sent for Paul and given him an opportunity to speak. Felix has another chance to hear the gospel and this time Paul lets him have it right between the eyes. 

Paul speaks directly to Felix’s sinful condition. Paul talks about righteousness(Acts 24:25a) Felix was someone who believed he could do nothing wrong.  But Paul talks about sin and the need to be right with God and the only way we can become right with God. What does God require?  What does God offer? 

Paul went on to speak about self-control.(Acts 24:25b) Felix had no self-control.  All his appetites had to be fed.  He lived a life of total self-indulgence.  But Paul was talking about controlling a life that had gotten out of control; about how to become free from the things that are controlling us; how we can live a joyful, meaningful, fulfilling and productive life. 

Paul wraps it up by speaking about the judgment to come. (Acts 24:25c)  Felix believed he could do anything he wanted to do without suffering any consequences.  But Paul is saying there will be a judgment.  We will all be held accountable someday to someone greater than ourselves for the way we lived our lives. 

Paul spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. (Acts 24:24$ Righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come are all taken care of by faith in Christ Jesus.  There you have it Felix.  You’ve heard it all before but it just doesn’t get any clearer, any truer or any plainer that that.  So what are you going to do about it?    

 Acts 24:25d  “Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”

“That’s enough!  Felix was afraid.”  Actually, he was being convicted by the Holy Spirit and it was becoming too uncomfortable for him.  He was resisting; he was stubbornly refusing the Holy Spirit’s invitation.

Remember all that “foresight” Tertullus said Felix was supposed to have  (Acts 24:2); always looking ahead, thinking ahead and planning ahead? Every time Felix has to decide something or do something, all he can ever say is: “I’ll do it later.”  When Paul first arrived, Felix said, “I’ll hear your case when you accusers get here.  I’ll do it later.”  When the trial was over and the defense and the prosecution had both rested, Felix said: “I’ll decide your case when Commander Lysias gets here.  I’ll do it later.” 

Now that Paul has finished telling Felix about the need to place his complete faith in Christ Jesus, Felix is afraid.  He’s uncomfortable.  He’s under conviction and he’s saying, “I’ll do it later.” Conviction produces procrastination. 

Acts 24:26 “At the same time, he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.”

So Governor Felix had an ulterior motive. I don’t know how he expected a prisoner to come up with a bribe, but he kept trying. He sent for Paul “frequently” but all he ever got was the plan of salvation, the testimony of God’s grace. Governor Felix had two more years of opportunities to place his faith in Christ Jesus, but he kept saying:  “I’ll do it later.” 

Later just may be a little too late. It was for Felix.  Felix had many chances to put his faith in Jesus, but he refused to do it.  He was planning to do it later, but later never came around for him again. 

 Acts 24:27   “When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.”

Do you remember me saying that there was gradual and increasing unrest in Judea and Rome was aware of it?  Felix’s superiors were watching him.  History records that Felix was summoned to Rome because things had gotten completely out of control in his province.  Felix was finally being held accountable for his actions.  The only reason he wasn’t killed was because his brother was a good friend of the Emperor, Claudius Caesar.  But he still had to face the judgment Paul was talking about and this time his brother wouldn’t be able to bail him out. 

When it comes to putting our trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sin and for becoming right with God, we don’t have the luxury of later.  We don’t have any guarantees about later.  I don’t really know how many more laters there may be for me in my lifetime.  God is in charge of later.  Later may just be a little too late. 

The Bible says: “Today is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:20)  Now is the time.  “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.” (Hebrews 3:15)

 We don’t come to Jesus when we find it convenient.  We come when the Holy Spirit is drawing us.  We come when Jesus is calling us.  We come when the invitation is being given.  We can’t count on later.  If the Lord is calling you right now, don’t be afraid.  Don’t put it off.  Come to Him today.

THE APOSTLE PAUL #9

0/11/2020

The Apostle Paul is standing before Governor Felix in Caesarea. He has been accused of being a troublemaker who’s been stirring up unrest among the Jews all over the world, a ringleader of the Nazarenes who tried to desecrate the Temple. (Acts 24:5-6)

In Acts 24:10, Governor Felix has asked Paul to defend himself against these charges. Paul has to rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to get his point across and now he’s being called on to defend himself in a Roman court of law.  Paul knows he’s not going to die in Caesarea because the Lord told him that he’s going to testify in Rome.

 Acts 24:10b “Paul replied, ‘I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense.’”

 Here’s Paul’s defense.   

Acts 24:11   I can call hundreds of witnesses who will verify my behavior. 

“You can easily verify that over twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship.”

Acts 24: 12-13  There is no evidence and no proof.

“My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the Temple or anywhere else in the city. And they cannot prove to you the charges they are making against me.”

Acts 24:18-21  “I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the Temple courts…There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance…Those who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin – unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial  before you today.

My first trial ended in a hung jury. There is still no proof and no evidence. The prosecution has failed to prove its case. The defense rests and I move that all charges be dismissed.

 Antonius Felix was a former slave who became the governor of Judea.  History records that he got the job because his brother was a friend of Claudius Caesar who was Emperor at the time.  It certainly wasn’t because of his superior leadership skills.  History has also described him as a corrupt official. 

Acts 24:22a“Then Felix who was well acquainted with the way, adjourned the proceedings.”

“Felix … was well acquainted with the Way.”  This wasn’t the first time Felix had met someone like Paul or heard the things Paul was saying.  He knew what these people believed and he knew about this Jesus they believed in. Felix has to decide who’s telling the truth. 

Governor Felix is a Roman official.  In order to have that position, you have to pledge allegiance to Caesar.  Caesar must be your god.  Right now he’s dealing with people who all claim to believe in the same God, but they’re telling two completely different stories.

 I believe there are people today who are trying to decide what to believe and who or what they should believe in.  They’re hungry and thirsty for spiritual truth.  If they turn to the church to try to find those answers, they’re going to hear two conflicting messages.

One message being preached in this country today is: “Don’t take the Bible literally.  It was written by men and is full of contradictions and errors.  Just try to be a good person and if there is a heaven, you’ll get there.” 

But there is also a message being preached today that says:  “The Bible is the inspired word of God.  Every word in it is true. Whoever believes and trusts in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin will not perish but will receive everlasting life.  The only way to God and to heaven is through Jesus.”

 Because the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, is actively revealing the truth, anyone who is genuinely searching for truth will recognize it when they find it.  They’ll know it when they hear it.  Felix knew what the truth was.  He just didn’t have the courage to act on it.    

Acts 24:22b-23  “’When Lysias the Commander comes,’ he said, ‘I will decide your case. He ordered the Centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs”

Commander Lysias wasn’t coming and Felix knew it.  But there was something inside him that wanted to keep hearing more.  That’s the compelling draw, the tugging of the Holy Spirit reaching out to Felix.   

Acts 24: 24a  “Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla.”   

Drusilla was the daughter of King Herod Agrippa I.  She became married to a king at the age of six.  Felix seduced her when she became fifteen and lured her away from her husband.    

Acts 24: 24b   “He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.”  

Felix has another opportunity to hear the gospel and this time Paul lets him have it right between the eyes.  Paul speaks directly to Felix’s sinful condition.  Because of its length, I think we’ll save that for next time. I hope you are finding these teachings to be helpful and worth reading.

I’m leaving California on Friday (8//14) and moving back to Pennsylvania. There may be some disruption over the next two weeks as I struggle to hook up to the internet. Please be patient. We’ll get there eventually. Please stay in God’s Word with Pastor Buj.

THE APOSTLE PAUL #8

08/04/2020

When we left off last week, the Roman Commander in Jerusalem had learned of a plot to kill the Apostle Paul.  Because Paul was a Roman Citizen, the Commander had him transferred to Caesarea.  In Acts 23:26-30, He explains everything in a letter he writes to Governor Felix who was going to be trying the case.  Paul is then escorted by cavalry to Caesarea an handed over to Governor Felix.   

Acts 23:34-35 “The governor read the letter and asked what provence he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, he said, ‘I will hear your case when your accusers get here.’ Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.”    

Five days later, the High Priest and some elders from Jerusalem show up to testify against Paul and they’ve hired a real slick lawyer whose name is Tertulus.  When you’re your case is weak, get yourself a good lawyer.  You’ve got to love this guy.  You’ve probably seen one of his ads on TV.  He’s so smooth.    

Acts 24:2a “When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: ‘We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you.’”

 “A long period peace?” Under Felix?  You’ve got to be kidding.  History records that there was a steady, gradual buildup of unrest growing in Judea at this time and Felix’s superiors were aware of it.  Rome was watching him.   

24:2b –“’and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation,’”

His foresight?  Nobody ever accused Felix of having any foresight.  Foresight implies that he’s looking ahead; thinking ahead; planning ahead.  Stick around and see just how much “foresight” Gov. Felix actually has. If you go back and check the history books, you won’t be able to find one good thing Felix ever did.  Whatever “reforms” Tertullus was talking about here were never recorded.   

Acts 24:3 “Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude.”

 I can just picture others who were standing there rolling their eyes, biting their tongues or trying to keep from laughing out loud as Tertullus kept piling it on.   

Acts 24:4 “But in order not to weary you further, I request that you hear us briefly”

In other words…”I can’t keep this up.  I can’t even stand myself right now and I can’t think of anything else to say. Now that he’s gotten that out of the way, Tertullus proceeds to level charges against Paul.   

Acts 24: 5-6 “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of a Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the Temple. So we seized him.”

If you look down at the bottom of the page in your Bible, you’ll probably see some verses in small print.  They separate those verses like that because scholars can’t seem to agree whether or not these words were in the original text.  I believe those verses were in the original text because if you try to understand this without them, it doesn’t make any sense. 

Without those verses at the bottom it reads: “so we seized him”… Acts 24:8“If you examine him yourself you’ll be able to learn the truth about these charges.”

 Of course you will.  The last thing in the world these elders want is for Felix to examine Paul.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth.  He’ll guide us into the truth.  We don’t want you or anyone else to know the truth.  Now, let’s try reading it with those verses at the bottom of your Bible. 

 Acts 24:6, 7, 8   “So we seized him. And wanted to judge him according to our law. But the Commander, Lysias, came and with the use of much force snatched him from our hands and ordered his accusers to come. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about these charges we are bringing against him.”

We wanted to judge him according to our law and have him put to death.  It was the Roman Commander who snatched him away so you could examine him and learn the truth about him.  Commander Lysias doesn’t think this man has done anything wrong.  

 Acts 24:9  “The Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.”

There’s a whole room full of people coming up with charges they think Tertullus has missed.   

Acts 24:10a “When the Governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied.”

Let’s give Paul a week to get his thoughts together before we listen to his defense. Remember, all these events, the riots, the trial, and all these people, The Sadducees, Commander Lysias. Tertullus, Governor Felix, are all working together to carry out the will of God and help Paul finish his race and complete his task.

Paul didn’t have to constantly question or wonder about what the will of God might be. It was his constant prayer and his heart’s desire for God’s will to be done so he just had to get up every day, go out and let it happen.

Maybe we should try that and not over think and over complicate it so much. Establish it in prayer. Then go out and live each day to its fullest. Let His will unfold around you and give thanks.

“Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

THE APOSTLE PAUL #7

07/28/2020

Jews from the province of Asia came to Jerusalem and stirred up the whole city; accusing Paul of turning people away from Moses, from the Law, from the Temple and from God. 

Acts 22:30 – “The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the Chief Priests and all the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.”   

This Roman Commander has just been dragged into something he knows absolutely nothing about and he’s going to be watching closely and listening intently to everything that’s going on around him; trying to make sense out of it and hopefully come up with some kind of solution.  He’s not Jewish.  He’s not from Jerusalem. 

As a Roman citizen, the Commander was raised to believe that Caesar was God. Caesar was the one who determined who lived and who died. But, since coming to Jerusalem, he’s responsible for a people who believe that Jehovah is God, the only true God.  Now the whole city is in an uproar because of this man called Paul. Paul believes that Jesus is God and his purpose in life is to honor and glorify Him. None of this makes any sense to him so the Commander tries to get these people to figure it out for themselves

Acts 23: 1-2  “Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.’ At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.”

 He just got slapped in the face.  What did he do?  Instead of turning the other cheek, this Jesus person strikes back with his mouth.   

 Acts 23:3-5    “Then Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you white-washed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the Law, yet you yourself violate the Law by commanding that I be struck!’ Those who were standing near Paul said, ‘You dare to insult the High Priest?’ Paul replied, ‘Brothers, I did not realize that he was the High Priest; for it is written: Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”

He’s more than I thought he was.  This Roman Jesus person is also human.  He’s not perfect.  He makes mistakes.  He’s a sinner just like the rest of us.  But he’s not trying to deny it, excuse it or cover it up.  He’s not afraid to admit he’s done something wrong.  He’s not too proud or stubborn to ask for forgiveness.    

Acts 23: 6-9 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, ‘My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.’  When  he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees…There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the Law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. ‘We find nothing wrong with this man.’…

 The commander knows Paul is a Roman citizen.  He’s a Pharisee and he’s a Christian.  But the commander is clueless about what Paul has just done here.  It would be like me standing up and saying, “I’m on trial because I believe (or don’t believe) in believer’s baptism or predestination or eternal security.”  You know what happens when someone does that in a church.  A fight breaks out and non-believers can’t figure it out.   

Acts 23: 10 The dispute became so violent that the Commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.” Who are these strange people and why would I want to be like them?

Acts 23:11a – “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said,” What a precious moment this must have been for Paul.  It came at a time when he needed it the most.  The Lord led him to Jerusalem.  As a result, the Roman army has him in protective custody because the Jews he was hoping to talk to want to tear him to pieces.  When we’re feeling alone, confused and frightened, isn’t it great to know the Lord is standing there “near” us?  Isn’t it wonderful to hear Him speak to us when we desperately need to hear what He has to say?    

Acts 23:11b “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

 So I’m going to Rome now?  What about Jerusalem?  Did the Lord send me here to start a riot?    It doesn’t matter how things look right now or what people are trying to do to Paul.  God said he’s going to testify in Rome; so he’s going to testify in Rome and nothing’s going to stop that or prevent that.  Not even this. 

 Acts 23: 12-13  “The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul.”   

Fortunately, Paul’s nephew finds out about this plot and he tells Paul about it.  Paul tells his nephew to go to the commander and tell him about it.  When the Commander finds out that there’s a plan to kill Paul…

Acts 23: 23-24   “Then he (the Commander) called two of his centurions and ordered them, ‘Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.’”  

I can’t let this man die and it’s not just because he’s a Roman citizen.  He’s an awful lot more than that.  I’ve seen this man make mistakes.  I’ve watched him act under pressure. He is not as they say.  He is not as I think.  He’s not even as he says. 

He is as he does.  What he does matches what he says to show me who he is.    He lives out what he says.  He lives as if Jesus is still alive.  He lives as if he believes he has eternal life.  He has a joy and a hope inside him that nothing or no one can take away. 

An entire city is trying to kill him, but there’s no fear in his eyes; no bitterness in his face; no hatred in his voice.  Lord willing, we’ll pick this up again next Tuesday. I hope you’ll continue to get In God’s Word with Pastor Buj.

THE APOSTLE PAUL #6

07/21/2020

            Last week we saw Paul and Stephen being attacked by angry mobs because they were both proclaiming that true Righteousness comes only through Jesus Christ and not by the keeping of the Law. Stephen died but Paul’s life was spared and it makes us wonder why that happens. Why did God rescue one but not the other? Why do some get healed and others do not? Why does God allow some to some live and others to die?

The reality is that we live in a sinful world and the horrible things that happen reflect the curse that sin brought upon the world in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed God.  Our God is not doing these things and He’s not trying to stop them.  He’s not the cause of the trouble but He is a very present help in time of trouble. If we’ll trust the Lord to help us get through these things, He’ll help us get through them and move beyond them.

The more I have to deal with these questions, the more I become convinced that for believers, for those who are trusting in Jesus and have surrendered their lives completely to Him, the answers are somehow tied to the Great Commission.  Jesus commanded us to go into all the world, starting at home.  Preach the Gospel and make disciples.  Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. All the things that happen to us as believers, all matters of life and death are tied into that Great Commission. 

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:19“I have become a servant to everyone so I can bring them to Christ.”  What the Lord does or does not do is less about what I believe or don’t believe; it’s less about how I pray or how fervently I pray.  What the Lord chooses to do or not to do in any particular situation is all about bringing as many people to Christ as possible. 

What will make a greater impact for Jesus and for the Kingdom of God?  What will reach and touch the hearts of more people with the Gospel, especially those we’ve been praying for who are directly involved in this particular situation?  What will do more to get them to start thinking about things like life and death, heaven and how to get there?  What will do more to soften their hearts so they can hear and receive the gospel message – a miraculous healing, a normal medical recovery or no healing or recovery at all?  What will do more to draw people to Jesus – a sensational deliverance or a victorious departure? 

God is the only one who has the answers to these questions.  He’s the only one who can see the end of everything from the beginning and whatever He decides to do is right.  Instead of telling God what I think He should do, I’d better start asking Him to do whatever will bring Him the most glory; whatever will reach the most people; make the most disciples, bring the most to Jesus. 

God needed someone to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles and Paul was the best candidate for the job.  He knew the Scriptures.  He was raised and educated as a Jew, but he was also a Roman citizen born in Tarsus.  He grew up among Gentiles.  He understood them.  He could relate to them.  They respected him.  Paul was definitely someone God could use to bring the most Gentiles to Jesus.  But, before that could happen, God needed someone to reach Paul and Stephen was the best one to do that. 

Paul was there the day Stephen died. Acts 7:59 – 8:1a – “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Sleep is a Biblical way of indicating that physical death is only temporary.)“And Saul (Paul) was there giving approval to his death.” 

 He wasn’t throwing the stones.  He was just holding the coats, but Paul “was in hearty agreement with putting Stephen to death.”(NASB)   Paul “was right there congratulating the killers.”(The Message)  He was cheering them on as the mob was throwing those stones.

When Paul was defending himself in front of that angry mob in Jerusalem, he said, “And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.” (Acts 22:20) 

Paul never forgot the love he saw coming from Stephen as Stephen was preparing to die.  He never forgot how much peace and assurance Stephen had in the face of death.  He never forgot how Stephen prayed with his dying breath for his attackers to be forgiven.  He never forgot the look on Stephen’s face as he died. The Bible says Stephen’s face was like the face of an angel and Paul could never get the look of Stephen’s face out of his mind. 

Actually, I guess you could say Stephen did the most to bring all those Gentiles to Christ; to start all those churches and write all those letters, those Epistles to all those churches.  Stephen did the most because he certainly paid the highest price.  He gave the most.  He was willing to die so others could find life in Jesus.  If Stephen had not died the way he died, Paul might not have lived the way he lived or done the things he did.  The New Testament could have been completely different. 

God can use the death of someone we love very much to open up the heart and completely transform the life of someone we love just as much.  Someone who was once alive on this earth may now be dead and in heaven with Jesus.  But as a result of their death, someone who was once spiritually dead with no desire or no interest in God or eternity, may now be alive because of their faith in Jesus.  Someone who was once held captive by an addiction may now be completely and permanently free.   

  “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body , whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:20-21

Lord willing, next week we’ll see more of how the Apostle Paul is finishing his race and completing the task the Lord has given him to do.

%d bloggers like this: