THE APOSTLE PAUL #17

10/06/2020

The Apostle Paul has been arrested for causing a riot in Jerusalem.  He’s on a ship headed to Rome to have his case tried by Caesar.  Last week, Paul tried to warn the Roman Commander that if they tried to sail now, it would be disastrous, not only for the ship and the cargo, but also for the lives of everyone on board.  The Commander ignored Paul’s warning and followed the advice of the captain and the crew.  The majority decided that they should sail on.     

Acts 27:13   “When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete.”  

The most dangerous thing about rejecting what the Bible says is, when we first get started, a gentle south wind begins blowing and it looks like we were right and the people who were trying to stop us were wrong.  Nothing bad is happening to us and it looks like everything’s going to be OK.  When that gentle south wind is blowing, we think we’ve obtained what we wanted.  We think God approves of what we’re doing.   

Acts 27: 14-15a  “Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called ‘the northeaster’ swept down from the Island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind”  

“Before very long…” those soft gentle winds from the south became hurricane force winds blowing from the northeast.  Living our own lives; making our own rules; designing our own spirituality can be enjoyable at the beginning.  It’s a lot of fun when we first get started.  But it doesn’t last.  “Before very long” it all turns against us and the consequences of our selfish, stubborn behavior come back at us with hurricane force winds. 

Acts 27:15b – “So we gave way to it and were driven along.”

We may start off thinking we’re in charge; but “before very long” we lose control.  We become slaves of whatever we’ve opened ourselves up to.  All we can do is give way to it and be driven along by it. There’s nothing we can do to stop it or to change it; nothing we can do to help ourselves or save ourselves.  We become forced to go where sin wants to take us.      

Acts 27:16  “As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboats secure.”

 The lifeboats had always been able to save them before. When we’re facing a crisis, we try to cope with it by turning to the things that have always worked for us in the past.  These are the pills you take.  These are the books you read.  These are the exercises you do.  These are the foods you eat; the counselors you talk to.  But as the storm keeps building and the winds keep getting stronger and stronger, those old life-boats become less and less secure and it keeps getting harder and harder for us to hold it all together

Acts 27:17a  “When the men hoisted it aboard, they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together.”

Science and technology are desperately trying to come up with solutions to hold this planet together.

Acts 27:17b – “Fearing that they would be run aground on the sandbar of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along.”

“They lowered the sea anchor.” If we can’t stop it, maybe we can slow it down a little. Everything is changing rapidly and spinning out of control. There’s nothing we can count on. Have you noticed a lack of stability in the world right now?

Acts 27:18a  “We took such a violent beating from the storm

We took such a violent battering from the storm.”  That includes  Paul’s friends and Luke who wrote those words.  He’s letting us know that the believers on that ship were suffering from the storm too.  They were not exempt from all the danger just because they were Christians.  They realized the storm could have been avoided.  They knew that ignoring God’s Word put everyone’s lives at risk. They were caught in that storm just like everybody else.  They were on that ship so God could use them to save the other people on that ship.  Christians are in this world to make a difference.   

Acts 27:18b “The next day they began to throw the cargo overboard.”   

They threw the cargo overboard.  They threw all their stuff overboard; their things; their possessions; their means of income; those items they were bringing with them to sell or trade when they got to Rome.  They tossed it all into the sea. 

We start out pursuing “the American Dream” of making a lot of money so we can have a lot of things.  But when we’re facing a crisis; when we lose our jobs or when someone we love becomes seriously ill; when we’re injured in an accident; we begin to re-think our priorities. 

We start to look and think differently about what is truly valuable; what is most important to us.  Those things we always thought we wanted; those things we worked so hard to get; those things we didn’t think we could live without are usually the first things we let go of.  The cargo, all those seemingly important things, can be replaced.  There’s nothing like an overwhelming crisis to help us put material things in their proper perspective.   

Acts 27:19  “On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands.”

Now they’re throwing the ship’s tackle overboard; all the equipment they were using to sail with.  It’s what they’ve always depended on to get them were they wanted to go and move them safely through the storms.  But none of these state-or-the-art, high-tech gadgets seem to be working anymore.  None of the world’s latest advances, improvements or discoveries are making life any easier.  They aren’t providing the answers.  They can’t help us when we need it the most.  We might as well toss it all into the sea.  

Lord willing, we’ll pick up from here next Tuesday. Hope you’ll be back and invite some friends to get in God’s Word with Pastor Buj

THE APOSTLE PAUL #16

09/29/2020

Paul is on a ship that is sailing for Italy where he will stand trial before Caesar. The trip is turning out to be a lot more stressful and dangerous than anyone had expected.

Acts 27: 9-10 ”Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous… so Paul warned them, ‘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’.”      

“Men, I can see.” When people are searching for answers and the world seems to be spinning out of control, the responsibility of the Church is to tell the world what we can see from God’s Word.  By faith, we see past the surface.   We can look beyond the obvious.  Because we have our eyes focused on Jesus, we have a confidence about the things that can’t be seen.  We know that the things we see are temporary.   They don’t last.  What can be seen is deceptive.  It’s all an illusion and it can’t be trusted.

When our trust is placed in Jesus, we always know what’s real even though we can’t see it.  When we’ve become filled with God’s Holy Spirit, we have an obligation to tell the world what we can see; we have an obligation to speak the Word of God; the Word of Truth; the word of Life that will stop the world from destroying itself.

 God has called us and commissioned us to keep pointing out the difference between right and wrong; good and evil; truth and deception; the real and the counterfeit. Speak clearly about the difference between righteousness and sin.  Faith allows us to see a little of what God can see. 

Christians have the ability; in fact, we have the response-ability to challenge and to question the wisdom, the methods, the ethics and the values of this world; to say, “I can see that it will be disastrous if you keep going this way.   You will experience great loss.  It will enslave and destroy you.  Choose Jesus.  Choose life.”

 Christians have the ability.  We have the response-ability to warn our unsaved friends and family members; to warn the world about the inevitable outcome; the disastrous consequences that come from ignoring God’s Word; deadly consequences that result from allowing,  accepting and tolerating sin.    

Acts 27:11 – “But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and the owner of the ship.”   

 “Instead of listening to what Paul said….”  Paul was speaking with God’s wisdom and a heavenly vision, but no one paid attention to what Paul could see.  They didn’t want to hear it.  Don’t listen to him.  He’s one of the prisoners.  He has to face Caesar in Rome.  Can you blame him for not wanting to sail?

  It’s heart-breaking, isn’t it; when we speak and they don’t see; when we try to warn them; when we speak out of love and a genuine concern; when we speak God’s Word of life and truth and they choose to ignore it?  The Commander trusted the advice of the pilot and the owner of the ship.  The Bible is not taken seriously by people who believe they’re in charge of their own lives; who believe no one else controls their futures.  We have no wisdom if we have no fear of God.     

Acts 27:12a – “Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on…”   

Paul told them that it would be disastrous to try it, but “the majority decided” that we should sail on.”  They were sailing on because everybody else thought was the right thing to do.  If my friends think it’s OK; if the rest of the world thinks it’s OK, why should I listen to the preacher?   

 Acts 27:12b – “hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there.”     

 Hoping to reach Phoenix and spend the winter there.  The world is desperate for hope.  The world is losing its hope.  Promising to give hope will get you elected to office.  People today, especially young people are becoming increasing disappointed and disillusioned with the emptiness they’re finding in the world.  People are frightened and they’re giving up.  Why bother?  What’s the use?  Forget the future.  Just live in the moment. 

The only hope an unbelieving world knows about is an empty hope; an unsure and uncertain kind of hope.  The world’s hope comes with no guarantee.  Is there a heaven and will I be going there?  I hope so, but who knows?  Will I ever find out what to do with my life?  Will my marriage last?  I hope so, but I can’t be sure. 

The hope we receive from trusting in Jesus is guaranteed.  God’s hope is based on His promises in His Word.  The Biblical definition of hope is to wait.  To wait for what?  To wait for the promises of God to be fulfilled.   

“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8: 24-25)  

That’s our hope.  That’s real hope.  That’s our only hope; waiting for the promises of God to be fulfilled.  God has never broken any of His promises. 

“…It is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure…”  (Hebrews 6 18-19)

  “…a firm and secure” anchor for our souls; for our minds.  I know it’s going to happen because God has promised it in His Word.  Our faith makes us sure of what we hope for; sure of what we’re waiting for.  We’re waiting for God to do it in His time.  All the riches in this world can’t buy that kind of hope.  Religious rituals; new age candles, cards, chants, smoke and mirrors, bells and whistles can’t give anyone that kind of hope.  That firm, secure hope only comes from inviting Jesus into your heart as your Savior and Lord.

 Who makes the decisions in your life?  How firm; how certain; how secure is your hope?  Are you sure you’re going to heaven?  Are you basing your future on the truth in God’s Word or are you going where everybody else wants to go; doing what the majority has decided is right? 

Christian, is there someone in your life right now who keeps ignoring the warnings you’ve been lovingly trying to give them? They don’t hear what you can see.   Keep warning them anyway.

 Is there someone you love who just can’t see what you’re saying about the disastrous choices and decisions they’re making with their life?  Keep showing them anyway. 

Are you praying for them to open their hearts to Jesus, but they seem to be closing them tighter and tighter?  Keep praying for them anyway.  The Bible promises us it will pay off some day.  We’ll see amazing results if we don’t get discouraged and give up. 

Keep hoping.  Keep telling.  Keep praying.  They’ll be back.  They know what you believe.  They know you love them.  They know where they can find you when they need you.  

That’s a lot for now. If you stayed to the end, thank you. Lord willing, we’ll take this up again next Tuesday.

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)

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