Monday, January 31, 2011

Focus, Attitude, and Action

 6 "Be strong. Take courage. Don't be intimidated. Don't give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He's right there with you. He won't let you down; he won't leave you."
(Deuteronomy 31:6)

As a new week is starting, a month comes to an end and the issues we are facing worldwide continue to mount in severity, I encourage us to embrace these words as our standard for the various personal, national, and international challenges that are ahead of each of us.  It is quite easy to be intimidated by that which we don't understand - war, unrest, falling stock market values, crashing home sales, troubles in our homes or work environment, etc.  We can look at the challenges of our very own life and become discouraged by what seems to be mounting pressure to perform, crushing demands on our time/energy, and emotional highs/lows that keep us as unbalanced as a ride on a roller coaster.  Or...we can embrace the words of Moses to "be strong...take courage".

Moses is 120 years old at the time he is speaking these words.  They are spoken to Joshua, the one who would be taking his place in leading the nation of Israel into the Promised Land of Canaan.  He is speaking as much to Joshua as he is to the entire nation.  That is often how God works - he speaks to one man or woman first, and in turn, the entire community begins to benefit by the words as they are embraced.  Several thoughts are contained in this one verse - they describe our focus, our attitude, and our actions.

Our Focus:

God is right there with you!  In the midst of the things you are facing today - regardless of what they are - he marches ahead of you.  Look at his place in your life - it is in the "lead" of your steps.  He goes ahead - and he is marching on.  If our focus remains on him, the way will be evident.  We may not understand all we feel we need to know, but we can trust the leadership of our God to take us into victory in grand style!

Our Attitude:

Don't be intimidated!  Don't give those scare tactics of the enemy one single thought!  Stop giving the things that distract our focus a second to inhabit our minds, emotions, or our spirit!  In other words, don't get your minds caught in the trap of entertaining the impossibilities of the present circumstances, but begin to ask God to open your mind's eye to see the possibilities in it.  We get lower than low when we focus on the impossibilities, but we can be escalated to the heights of joy, overflowing with peace when we are maintaining our focus on God and allowing him to direct the stability of our emotions.  Intimidation is nothing more than a scare tactic - it lacks a true threat to us - is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.  That is the best that the enemy of our souls can do to us - intimidate.  Remember that when you are beginning to listen to his lies!

Our Actions:

March on!  Be strong!  Be courageous!  Strength is an outcome of both attitude and focus - what we focus on most bring strength, what we commit to becomes the means by which we develop our strength.  Courage is an outcome of strength - when we are strong in our faith (not focused on the impossibilities), committed in our focus (mind and spirit set on God alone), it is easy to be courageous.  When we have our focus on the wrong things (things that distract us from our worship, study, or mission), we interpret things through a mind and emotional basis that produces fear and chaos.  Focus determines attitude. Attitude directs our actions.  Our actions are coming from a place of strength when both of these are correct.  

Look at what Moses tells Joshua - march on!  If God marches ahead, we have the best leader we could ever hope for - no matter what the territory is that we are marching through.  To march, one must be set into motion - there is action required of us - it is not a passive observance of life.  The fears we entertain are often what will paralyze us and make us passively inactive in times of challenge.  The faith we allow to be built by a right focus will allow us to receive our "marching orders" and will call us into action that is steadfast and committed.

We will face challenges - that we can be assured of.  What we do with those challenges (in our mind, emotions, and spirit) determines how they will affect us.  Stand strong, don't get distracted, and don't listen to the intimidating chaos of your enemy.  Determine to maintain your focus on God - the rest is at his leading!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Love is a learning experience

15 Look at what I've done for you today: I've placed in front of you
      Life and Good  - Death and Evil.
 16 And I command you today: Love God, your God. Walk in his ways. Keep his commandments, regulations, and rules so that you will live, really live, live exuberantly, blessed by God, your God, in the land you are about to enter and possess.
(Deuteronomy 30:15-16)

Every new day brings the dawn of new choices - no two days are exactly alike in what will come across our paths.  We may believe our lives are "boring" and without any real sense of "difference" from day-to-day, but indeed, there are new choices each day.  We are told that we are faced with choices of life and good or death and evil.  Pretty heavy stuff, if you ask me.  The evidence is all around us - in what we choose to listen to, what we allow our eyes to take in, or what we attend our minds to consider.  Each entertained thought, internalized perception of sight, or message heard is an opportunity to bring forth from within those things that will produce life and goodness within.  Conversely, they also can produce death to our spirit, dryness to our soul, and confusion in our mind - each influences us to actions that are neither good not life-giving - we call this evil.

So, understanding how we make choices that produce the outcomes that are life-giving and the evidence of goodness within us is essential to learning how to walk a steady path that will keep us from death and evil.  For this insight, we can look at what Moses said under the influence of the Holy Spirit:  
  • Love God, your God - to really love something or someone, it helps if the object of our love is OURS.  When the object of our affection is someone else's, we call the attitude of "loving" that object LUST.  God never asks us to "lust" after him.  Instead, he places a distinct difference between desiring something we cannot have and enjoying something we are invited to participate in personally - relationship with him.  To love God, we first make him our God - we have personal relationship with him.  Then we learn to enjoy the graces of that relationship by frequent and intimate contact with him.  Intimacy with God involves transparency of heart, mind and soul - allowing him to touch the very fibers of our being with his refreshing, renewing, and regenerating touch.
  • Walk in his ways - when we are really be in a "love relationship" with another, we don't demand our own way, but are content, and often quite fulfilled, in enjoying the things they enjoy.  So it is in our walk with God - we make a committed choice to learn to enjoy what it is he enjoys - those things that will produce life and goodness.  Notice that this requirement is for us to take action - "walk" is an action word.  We cannot be passive and be "walking".  Therefore, to be involved in this love relationship with God, we need to be active in our pursuit of him.  
  • Keep his regulations, rules, and commands - this is really where the rubber meets the road.  It is one thing to "fall in love" - it is quite another to "live together in love".  When some hear the word "submit", there is an immediate cringing away and self-preserving fear that emerges.  Yet, in a love relationship, we often find that one leads, the other follows in heartfelt devotion and trust.  It is not a hard thing when one trusts the other - there is no fear that the other will lead them astray or leave them abandoned.  God's plan is that we will neither cringe under his leadership, nor pull away in self-preserving mistrust.  His desire is that we learn to live "together" in love.
In turn, we will be blessed.  Nothing is more blessed than a true love relationship, complete with its intimate exchange of things hidden from the view of others.  We often "say" that we want to live exuberant lives, but do we really?  Are we seeking God as our own?  Are we still demanding our own way? Are we learning what it takes to live together in relationship with God?  If not, then I daresay we are looking for our "exuberance" in ways and places where we will be disappointed with the outcomes.  In fact, we might just find that the end result of our searching in those places will lead us into decisions that produce death to our spirit, confusion to minds, and senseless waste of energy in our soul.  

Love is a learning experience - we don't just "fall in love".  There is nothing passive about loving another - it requires our investment.  There is nothing more fulfilling than being loved, though.  There is nothing more rewarding than returning that love!  Love God - YOUR God. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shackles have no hold on us

1-4 That's when King Herod got it into his head to go after some of the church members. He murdered James, John's brother. When he saw how much it raised his popularity ratings with the Jews, he arrested Peter—all this during Passover Week, mind you—and had him thrown in jail, putting four squads of four soldiers each to guard him. He was planning a public lynching after Passover.  5All the time that Peter was under heavy guard in the jailhouse, the church prayed for him most strenuously.  6Then the time came for Herod to bring him out for the kill. That night, even though shackled to two soldiers, one on either side, Peter slept like a baby. And there were guards at the door keeping their eyes on the place. Herod was taking no chances!
(Acts 12:1-6)

The message of Christ has always brought some form of conviction - some deal with that conviction with repentance, while others resist with all that is within.  Herod was the Roman ruler over Judea - his "title" was Herod, but his "last name" was Agrippa.  There are many men referred to as Herod or King Herod in the New Testament - keeping them all straight is hard.  This is not the Herod who ordered babies killed after Jesus was born - fearful that the King of the Jews had been born as reported to him by the scholars of the day.  Agrippa would have been his grandson.  He was unusually liked by the Jews of the day because he showed them favor, supporting them in their religious pursuits.

As such, he was opposed to those that appeared to be doing or saying anything that was contrary to the Jewish laws and rabbinical teachings.  Therefore, when the disciples and apostles were preaching a message of salvation and faith in Christ as the only way to have redemption from their sins, he sided with the Jewish members of the community to attempt to "shut them up" in the spreading of this message.  He often used a sentence of time in jail as one of the means to silence them - causing them great distress through the time spent in jail, the beatings and other forms of torture that often went along with a term in jail.

It is Passover week once again, and he is knows Jerusalem will be filled with not only his Jewish supporters, but those that stood as their opposition - like James and Peter.  James' fate was death - Peter was imprisoned with the intention that he would also know this same fate.  The delay in accomplishing his plan was the Feast of Passover - in respect to his Jewish supporters, he deferred to bring the final blow to Peter until after the Passover celebration.  News about how God was at work in the ministry of Peter must have reached Herod.  Why else would he have four squads of four soldiers each to guard him around the clock?  Why would he have had him shackled to two soldiers while he slept?  I think Herod had heard the reports of the power of God in Peter's life and may have wanted to ensure his prisoner was still there come time for the lynching.

Herod is not the main character of this passage though - God is.  Peter is really the secondary focus here - God's presence in his life and his ministry is preeminent.  Peter is able to rest, sleeping soundly, because he is assured of the God in which he has placed his trust.  Look also at the response of the other believers to the presumed "fate" of Peter - they made it a matter of unending prayer because they knew in whom they believed and were confident that God would intervene.  

The "rest of the story", as Paul Harvey would say, is the "suddenness" of God's intervention.  Peter could have been delivered from the hand of Herod at any time, but God chose the night before his scheduled death.  An angel appears, waking him, telling him to dress and then escorts him out of the jail - free of the shackles, free of the guards, and past the secured iron gates guarding the city.  The guards were oblivious to the intervention of God - Peter was wondering if he was dreaming - and the praying church would be suddenly elevated out of their spirit of petition into a spirit of praise.  

When God is trusted, his intervention is certain.  When God is elevated to preeminence in a person's life, his provision is certain.  When God is foremost in the actions of a person's life, his protection is certain.  Peter rested well, even in the midst of his most fearful night, because he knew the God he trusted had all in his control.  We need to fear no man (nor woman) - they can do nothing apart from God's watchfulness over us.  We need not to fear any bondage as permanent and unyielding to his touch - his touch is greater than anything that binds us.  We need to not believe the threats of things which seem impossible to us - for all things are made possible when the Lord is Lord of our lives.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The strength of a leader

2 When good people run things, everyone is glad,
   but when the ruler is bad, everyone groans. 
(Proverbs 29:2)

Much can be said about "good leaders", but the most frequent thing you will heard mentioned about "solid" leadership is the fact that people have no problem "getting behind them" in loyal support.  Good leadership does not mean that everyone agrees with every decision that is made, but that they can apply themselves to the vision of that leader and move forward in faith that the plans will accomplish the end result.  We find leaders in every area of our lives - at work, in our homes, in the community in which we reside, and over countries. In fact, we often fill the role of leaders in some arena of our lives. Leaders play an integral part in "directing" our future. Therefore, the leader must lead with integrity, passion and purpose - but the leader must also lead with interest in others, compassion, and openness of heart/mind.

I have been interviewed for leadership positions and in turn, have interviewed others who will fill positions of leadership.  One of the "questions" you often hear posed is "tell me about your most influential leader".  This question usually elicits a litany of character traits that exhibit commitment to the people they lead, an ability to create vision, genuine trust, etc.  All of these are positive traits.  No one ever says, "Well, my most influential leader ruled with a heavy hand, carried a big stick, and never wanted our input into decisions."  

Leadership qualities are exemplified in various people who stand as examples for us in scripture.  Here are but a few:
  • Job - a husband, father, rancher, and friend of many.  When "misfortune" fell his way with his business, family, and fortune, he trusted God to bring provision to both his household and his "hired" workers.  He knew in his heart that God both provided the increase and allowed for the decrease - if that was true, he'd provide for the increase once again.  He kept his focus squarely on God's faithfulness through all his "down-turns".  Things may have appeared pretty bleak on the outside, but God was still on the throne in is life.
  • Peter - an apostle in the New Testament church and a disciple who had followed Jesus during his earthly ministry.  Most think of Peter as a little bit of an impetuous man - acting without thinking.  That may have been the start of his "leadership" as a disciple of Christ, but it certainly was not his end.  Toward the end of his ministry, we see Peter moved by the needs of the beggar at the Temple Gate - moved enough to veer from his intended path to meet the needs of the man before him.  He connected with people, even when he did not see eye-to-eye with them as in his visit to the house of Cornelius (a Centurion leader, a non-Jew).  He allowed the "connection" between people who had needs, plans, and desires.
  • David - a shepherd boy, called to be King over the land.  As a shepherd boy, he learned the importance of protecting those that you had been appointed to lead (his sheep).  Without his care and attention to their needs, he'd lose them to the "competition" (those pesky predators just waiting in the wings).  As King of Israel, he continued his "watchful care" over those he was called to "shepherd".  Yes, without question, he made mistakes along the way.  He displayed his humanity in those mistakes he made, but more importantly, he displayed his ability to admit he was wrong.  A trait not to be overlooked in a solid leader.
These are but three examples of leaders and their leadership traits.  The three things I really want us to see is that we can all be called to leadership at one point or another.  The qualities we demonstrate, the connections we make, and the honesty we maintain in those relationships will either ensure safety for those we lead, or create a slippery-slope for them to traverse.

Not only do we need to align ourselves with good leaders, but we need to be good leaders ourselves (in whatever arena of leadership we are in).  There are people that will either be elevated to realize their potential because of our "leadership", or they will be diminished in their purpose through the lack of connection we make.  Mentors are leaders - and we all mentor in one way or another.  The example we set may be just what another needs to realize their full potential in Christ.  

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rewriting the Title Page of our Lives

19-21Saul spent a few days getting acquainted with the Damascus disciples, but then went right to work, wasting no time, preaching in the meeting places that this Jesus was the Son of God. They were caught off guard by this and, not at all sure they could trust him, they kept saying, "Isn't this the man who wreaked havoc in Jerusalem among the believers? And didn't he come here to do the same thing—arrest us and drag us off to jail in Jerusalem for sentencing by the high priests?"  22But their suspicions didn't slow Saul down for even a minute. His momentum was up now and he plowed straight into the opposition, disarming the Damascus Jews and trying to show them that this Jesus was the Messiah.
(Acts 9:19-22)

Saul of Tarsus - the persecutor of the New Testament church - is now dedicated to the work of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit.  He was called to be God's personal representative to the non-Jews (those with no real knowledge of the one true God), the kings (those with power and influence), and to the Jews (those that crucified Christ).  You would think that the believers in Damascus would be delighted to see Saul's transformation.  Yet there is skepticism and a sense of unease as he launches into his ministry.

Most of their initial mistrust of Saul was due to their "perception" of who Saul WAS - he had been well known as the persecutor of believers.  Their mistrust was based on how they HAD known Saul - not on how he WAS behaving in the present.  We sometimes have the tendency to judge the book by the cover.  We know certain things about an individual and then we just don't look any farther.  We allow the things we know about them to give us what we embrace as our TOTAL impression of that individual.  We might even say that based on what little we know, we give them a "title" - like "persecutor of the church" was a title Saul had come to be acquainted with.  There is always a danger in limiting our perception of an individual based on what we know of them in the past.  The danger is that we will never discover the potential of Jesus in them if we always just perceive them under the "title" of their past.

The believers of the day met in meeting places - like small groups in homes of other believers - they did not have many large meeting places like we think of as the churches in our neighborhoods today.  Saul kept with this tradition at first, and launched out to meet as many of the Damascus disciples during his first few days of being a believer in Christ.  Then, we are told, he went right to work with the ministry calling God had given him.  Saul was known as a zealous man - he certainly would embrace the call of God to bring people to Christ as much as he had embraced his misguided belief that the church was "against God".  Saul wasted no time.  One of the tendencies we see with new converts to Christianity is that they are excited about the work Jesus has done in their lives.  They want to share how much grace has touched their lives.  This was the case for Saul, as well.

Look at Saul's enthusiasm - but don't forget to see the reaction of those who knew Saul as the persecutor of the church.  They were reluctant to believe this life change was real.  They almost wanted to not have him in their meeting places because they were fearful this was a trick on his part.  This did not stop Saul - he launched himself into the ministry of sharing the good news about Christ's grace and love as intently as he did all things with his life, plowing head-on into the opposition he encountered.  That opposition was first those within the church that did not fully trust the change they saw in him, then the Jews that stood in total opposition to the New Testament believers and their message of grace.  

The following verses in this chapter begin with a few words common to us in story-telling:  "Now, back in Jerusalem..."  The story is focused on what Saul is doing in Damascus, but then we move to the reaction of the disciples at Jerusalem.  This gives us insight into how widespread the fear of Saul was at that time - even the disciples there did not trust that the change in Saul was real. man would make all the difference in changing their view of Saul.  That man was Barnabas. 

Barnabas was a Levite - of the line of priests in the Jewish faith that served in the Temple ministry.  He was now a "converted Jew" - one who had embraced the Messiah and had become a follower of Christ.  He was a native of the land of Cyprus - a landowner there.  We find that he sold his land and used the funds from that sale to assist in the work of the church (Acts 4:36-37).  It is quite possible that Barnabas was a long-time acquaintance of Saul - perhaps even "buddies" in the school of Jewish education known as Rabbinical teaching.  

When Saul comes to Jerusalem, it is rough sailing for him - his reputation precedes him.  As is often the case, living "beyond" our reputation is often one of the highest hurdles we will take!  Saul needed to be embraced by one that the other disciples and believers would look up to and trust - Barnabas was that man.  Scripture tells us that he "took Saul under his wing", introducing him to the apostles, and "standing up for him".  If there is one thing that every new convert to Christianity needs, it is someone who will take them under their wing for a while.  That bond and support made all the difference in the acceptance of Saul as a "changed man".  It helped others see him beyond his "reputation" and understand the work God was doing in his life.

Theirs would be a long relationship - Barnabas and Saul traveling throughout the land, preaching the good news of Christ's grace and establishing new churches.  At first, Barnabas is the key player - introducing Saul (now known to them as Paul) to the apostles, church leaders, and believers in Jerusalem, then inviting him to assist him in a full year's missionary work in the region of Antioch.  Before long, Paul began to know the calling on his life - it was that of a missionary.  I cannot help but wonder how much Barnabas influenced the early ministry of Paul, helping him rise to the place that he would be commissioned as a missionary in the New Testament church.

The relationships we form are often the very thing we need to "rewrite" the "title page" of our lives.  No longer was Saul known as the "Persecutor of the Church" - now he was "The Missionary to the Gentiles".  Today, as you consider those who have taken you "under their wings" as mentors, coaches, and simply as positive examples by which you come to learn what it is to live as a Christian, offer a special word of thanks to God.  They are God's gift to us to help us "rewrite" the "title page" of our lives!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Honesty opens the hearing

11-12"Get up and go over to Straight Avenue. Ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus. His name is Saul. He's there praying. He has just had a dream in which he saw a man named Ananias enter the house and lay hands on him so he could see again."  13-14Ananias protested, "Master, you can't be serious. Everybody's talking about this man and the terrible things he's been doing, his reign of terror against your people in Jerusalem! And now he's shown up here with papers from the Chief Priest that give him license to do the same to us."  15-16But the Master said, "Don't argue. Go! I have picked him as my personal representative to non-Jews and kings and Jews. And now I'm about to show him what he's in for—the hard suffering that goes with this job."
(Acts 9:11-16)

Saul of Tarsus is best known to us by the name Paul.  As the story unfolds before us this morning, we see that Saul of Tarsus was out on a mission - destroy the New Testament believers and shut down the work of the New Testament church.  It was almost a "passion" for him.  If we read the passage surrounding this account, we will find that Saul even prepared to continue his work along the journeys he took.  On this day, he had already gone to the magistrates to receive arrest warrants "in case" he came across any believers in Damascus.  His intent was to arrest them, return them to Jerusalem, and then to have them imprisoned, or worse.  In his "passion" to destroy the church he was well-known to the church and its leaders.

What he could not anticipate on this day's journey was the touch of God on his life - that touch would transform his life completely.  We often see people dead set against something not because they understand it fully, but because they have been misguided in their beliefs.  I think we might say this is the case with Saul of Tarsus.  He was genuine in his beliefs - thinking he was doing exactly what God intended him to do - yet so totally misguided.  There is no doubt in my mind that Saul saw the New Testament believers as a threat to the teachings of Moses (the Law) and all that Israel had come to hold dear as their foundation of beliefs.  The message they taught was of grace - standing in direct opposition to the message of salvation through works that most Jews believed in those days.  Hence, he felt obligated to "shut down" the message being preached by these "radicals" amongst them.

On his way to Damascus, God touches him.  He is stricken blind - blinded by a great light that none with him on the journey seemed to be affected by in the same way.  Now, he is laid up in Damascus, three days without sight.  He has heard the voice of God directly - something not too many of his day had heard.  Those traveling companions heard something, but they saw nothing.  Amazing!  We can be so close to what brings transformation and yet miss it!  Saul is told he will be met by a man who will restore his sight.  Imagine that - the very believers he is seeking to imprison will set him free from his blindness (both physically and spiritually!).

We could focus on Saul alone in this passage, but my attention is caught by the one God uses to complete the work God had begun in Saul's life that day - a man we know as Ananius.  Ananius was a disciple of Christ - he was a believer in the message of grace.  What caught my eye about Ananius is that he would be asked to demonstrate the message of grace in a way that really was above and beyond what he'd "feel like doing" in his natural man.  He was asked a couple of things:  1) to go to Saul; 2) to lay hands on him; and 3) to pray for him that his sight might be restored.

I guess I would have been just as resistive as Ananius was at first - he actually argued a little with God about this "plan" God had for him.  He presents God with the honest protest of his heart - "You can't be serious, God!"  I thank God for putting these little tidbits of honest expression of heart and soul in the Word.  Sometimes we think being a Christian is like being a robot - God asks something of us and we simply get up and do it, no questions asked, no arguments, just simple obedience.  Well, let me assure you - there is NOTHING simple about obedience!  There is probably a whole lot more of the "you can't be serious, God" talk going on amongst believers than we want to admit to!

The neat thing about being honest with God - honest about our feelings, open about our fears, transparent about what we don't understand - is that he appreciates our honesty.  God can work with our honesty to get to us a place of complete obedience - it is our dishonesty that he has trouble working with!  When we are willing to admit our struggle with what he asks us to do - like loving the unlovely, reaching out to someone who has done vile things, or bringing a message of hope to one we don't think deserves to receive any hope - he can use us to accomplish his purposes!  It may mean a little back-and-forth conversation with God, but he will bring us through our contrary feelings, fears, and lack of understanding.

Ananius was honest with God - he could not believe that God was going to do anything good for this man who was persecuting his church.  In that honesty, God revealed his plan - Saul was going to be God's method of reaching the non-Jews, kings, and yes, even the Jews.  The past "occupation" of Saul's mind, heart, and time was being turned upside down in those three days of blindness in that Damascus inn.  The plan God had differed from what Ananius believed possible - but he heard God's plan and he acted on it.  That is all God asks of us - act on what we hear.  Honesty with God got him to the place of "hearing".  Never be afraid of being totally honest (transparent) with God - it may just be what you need to truly "hear" his plan.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Clear paths

8 Grow a wise heart—you'll do yourself a favor;
   keep a clear head—you'll find a good life. 
(Proverbs 19:8)

Within these two sentences, two words give us direction, two words describe a condition, and two words reveal the focus.  The two words that give us direction are "grow" and "keep".  The two that describe a condition are "wise" and "clear". The two indicating the focus are "heart" and "head".  Let's dig a little deeper....

Two words of direction:
  • Grow - the first thing that comes to mind when we consider growing is the natural outcome of development in which something or someone increases in size or capacity.  As we consider this in light of our Christian walk, we see growth as more than "natural" development - in also encompasses "supernatural" development.  That is the increase in our capacity that comes from time with Jesus.  One of the least common definitions of "grow" is that of attachment.  It is a process of attachment that occurs by close association with that which you attach to.  A gardener will tell you this process begins with "grafting" one branch or stem into the "parent" tree, vine, or bush.  Jesus reminds us that he is that vine - we are the branches - grafted into him.  By close association to him, we begin to grow through that attachment.
  • Keep - we usually gravitate to the idea of holding onto something when we consider the meaning of "keep".  Yet, it also carries the idea of continuing a given course, action, or state.  When we are "keeping" something in this sense, we are involved in actively ensuring the course is consistent and focused.  It means that we refrain from departing from a specific path - there is an element of restraint that is utilized in order to remain consistent in our focus.
Two words describing a condition:
  • Wise - the first condition address deals with discernment, judgment, and discretion.  The "condition" is connected with growth.  Discernment is the ability to evaluate two options and choose the best.  Since our growth is directly correlated with our choice of "attachment", it is important to choose the best attachment.  Judgment affects our actions because it is associated with the matter of acting upon what we believe to be correct.  It is associated with growth because it deals with discretion - choosing those things that produce right actions.  
  • Clear - the second condition is frequently described as the absence of that which clouds or that which gives transparency.  As it applies to the idea of being kept, there is a great deal of "path-finding" that is clouded with all kinds of uncertainty, potholes of pride, and pitfalls of emotional upheaval.  The condition of transparency is associated with us being kept - refraining from certain courses of action that will produce certain "road hazards" along the path of our walk.  
Two words that describe our focus:
  • Heart - we often gravitate to the "nebulous" meaning of heart - that which describes our capacity for sympathy, the ability to connect with others, etc.  We need to look a little deeper at "heart" in order to understand the importance of this word.  It is the seat of all that gives us personality - our emotional make-up.  The heart is to be growing and it is to do so in a wise manner.  In other words, all that gives us our "internal make-up" is to be intimately connected (associated) with Jesus so that we learn to discern well.  Our emotions are unreliable - our "spirit" is not enough to keep us on track at times.  We form wrong attachments at a whim - stunting growth completely.  Our passage reminds us that we are to "grow a wise heart" - in so doing, we are avoiding those things that do us "dis-favor" in life.
  • Head - we associate "head" with the mind or thought life.  The "head", or rather, what is contained in the head (our brain), gives us the capacity to reason, rationalize, and rehearse.  We are reminded to keep our minds clear.  That includes learning to reason things out as Christ would - utilizing the "tools" he gives (the Word, the Holy Spirit, and our conscience).  It also includes the idea of being able to be rational in thought - able to proceed in a course because reason has proven a path to be best.  The often overlooked "capacity" of the mind is that of rehearsal.  We use this capacity to both reminisce about the good and continuously remember the bad.  The head is associated with being kept clear - in turn producing a good life.  Thoughts lead to action - that is why the focus is on clarity.  Clear thoughts lead to more transparent actions.
Two words, two conditions, describing two aspects of focus in our lives.  Consider them well - they will keep your path clear!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Intensity - directed focus

 3-8And Saul just went wild, devastating the church, entering house after house after house, dragging men and women off to jail. Forced to leave home base, the followers of Jesus all became missionaries. Wherever they were scattered, they preached the Message about Jesus. Going down to a Samaritan city, Philip proclaimed the Message of the Messiah. When the people heard what he had to say and saw the miracles, the clear signs of God's action, they hung on his every word. Many who could neither stand nor walk were healed that day. The evil spirits protested loudly as they were sent on their way. And what joy in the city!
(Acts 7:3-8)

Stephen was martyred for his faith - stoned on the outskirts of the city - guilty of nothing more than his passionate pursuit of Christ.  Saul was an onlooker to those events that day.  We read that he was there, congratulating the killers of Stephen.  Then scripture defines the "scattering of the believers" all over the world - because they were being persecuted terribly in Jerusalem.  One of the leading players in the role of persecutor was Saul of Tarsus.  There was a "passion" behind what Saul was doing - he wanted to stop the message of hope. Scripture tells us that it was his goal to destroy the church - in turn, he caused the message of hope to be scattered to the regions well beyond Jerusalem.

For a moment, I would like us to consider "intensity".  There are words we use without really having a thorough understanding of their meaning.  When we "dig into" the meaning of a word, we often get insight into how God describes things in scripture.  Intensity if often thought of as that event or circumstance that creates some type of emotional response within us that has us "sitting on the edge of our seats", tension mounting, blood pressure rising, heart rate increasing, the mind set to respond with fight or flight.  As a matter of fact, we pay good money to go see movies that will elicit this response from us all within a two-hour window!

I'd like to look at intensity from the vantage point of that which displays the most vibrant color or the most radiant light.  When we look at rows and rows of light bulbs on a shelf, we make our selection based on the amount of "intensity" we want from the light.  If we hope to read by that light, we want a light with focused intensity.  If we want a soft glow in the room without specific focus on one particular thing, we get a bulb that has a "muted" intensity.  When we look at walls of paint swatches, we see various colors of what we could call "white", "yellow", or "blue" - but there are so many varieties of "color" within each of those palettes.  What makes one different from the other is the degree of intensity - the specific blend of colors that produces the more vibrant hues is said to have a higher intensity than the more muted color.

The persecution of the church did much to enhance the "intensity" of the believers.  When the pressure mounted, the degree of their "intensity" also rose.  Great energy, strength, and passion became apparent in their walk.  As they are made the focus of the attention of Saul and his followers, their commitment to follow Christ regardless of the cost becomes more apparent.  We could say that their "true colors" began to emerge!  There was a "radiance" about them that made the gospel message even more evident in their lives.  As they scatter to Samaria and the outer parts of the then known world, theirs is a message of hope, not despair.  Why?  They had "intensity".

Intensity is a result of depth - the depth of a person's focus.  When we put a standard light bulb in a spotlight, we would have light "aimed" at a particular subject, but it would lack focus.  If we exchanged that bulb for a spotlight bulb, backed by mirrored substance, we'd see that the "reflected" light becomes more intense, giving us a better focus on the subject.  Now, exchange that for a halogen or LED spotlight bulb and wow!  You have not only focus, but vibrant light!  

What persecution's impact did in the lives of these believers was to increase their intensity.  It was giving them an even greater "focus".  They were scattered, but in that scattering they had to grow.  The scripture points out that the apostles remained in Jerusalem.  That meant that these believers would have to "dig into" the Word, learn to feed their spirits, and then allow the Spirit of God to "grow them up" in Christ.  The local church exists today because of the intensity of a few.  First, the few gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem awaiting the power of God to be displayed in their midst.  Then the believers who were gathered in Jerusalem.  Ultimately, the "few" that would be scattered to the ends of the earth - the first missionaries!

Intensity is directed focus.  There is nothing more powerful than directed focus - it can change the world!  How's your focus?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The legacy of forgiveness

8Stephen, brimming with God's grace and energy, was doing wonderful things among the people, unmistakable signs that God was among them.
(Acts 6:8)

51And you continue, so bullheaded! Calluses on your hearts, flaps on your ears! Deliberately ignoring the Holy Spirit, you're just like your ancestors.
(Acts 7:51)

Our two passages today are taken from a very lengthy story of Stephen - a man appointed by the disciples to be a "deacon" in the church.  In his role as deacon, he was given the responsibility to make sure the widows, orphans, and poor were cared for.  His role as deacon allowed the disciples to go on with their work of spreading the gospel message - preaching, healing the sick, and sharing the good news that Christ was raised from the dead.  His ministry gained him some momentum and there were people who were a little "miffed" because they could not match his wisdom.  This is what we find in Acts 6:

But then some men from the meeting place whose membership was made up of freed slaves, Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and some others from Cilicia and Asia, went up against him trying to argue him down. But they were no match for his wisdom and spirit when he spoke.  (6:9-10)

The whole crux of their dislike of Stephen was that they were no match for his wisdom and the spirit that was evident in his life when he spoke.  That is a pretty awesome testimony, if you ask me.  Stephen had a testimony - even in his role as a deacon in the church.  That testimony spoke volumes - and it drew some attention - right up to the leaders, priests, and Pharisees.  Why?  Because through the ongoing ministry of the New Testament church, even priests of the old Levitical line were being converted and added to the ranks of Christianity!

Stephen was taken into custody by the High Council of the land - those religious leaders who stood to judge the crimes of the people.  He was in custody, not for speaking the truth, but because those who could not match his wisdom cooked up a scheme to "shut him down".  As I read the story of Stephen, I am reminiscent of the similar response to Jesus' testimony as he walked this earth - there were always pockets of people wanting to "shut him down".  Truth convicts - it makes us uncomfortable.  Many cannot handle the truth - so instead of embracing the conviction, they seek to silence the voice that brings it.

As Stephen stood before the High Council, they found they could not take their eyes off him (Acts 6:15).  There is something dynamic about a life on fire for Jesus.  There is a radiance of the presence of God that captures the attention of even the unbelieving.  I laugh at the question they pose to Stephen: "What do you have to say for yourself?"  At that, Stephen begins to open the Word of God to them.  He did not "defend" himself - but rather, he let the Word of God speak volumes more than he could ever speak in his own defense.

At the end of it all, he speaks the words that cut to the core of the hearts of those who look to silence him - "And you continue, so bullheaded! Calluses on your hearts, flaps on your ears! Deliberately ignoring the Holy Spirit, you're just like your ancestors."  Bullheaded, calloused hearts, and ears that just will not hear.  Ignorant to the move of the Holy Spirit occurring all around them.  Just like your ancestors.  Ouch!  God had spoken similar words on many occasions to the nation of Israel - reminding them that if they would turn their hearts to him, forsaking the ways of the culture around them, and seek him with all their hearts, he'd restore them and make them whole as a nation.

This time, the words produced a reaction that was similar to the reaction of the crowd the day Jesus was crucified - hissing, violent words with riotous behavior.  The crowds did not know what to do with the conviction they felt - so they reacted as so many do - in anger.  Anger is often an attempt to cover over whatever points out our weakness.  Their response was to attempt to silence what he said - if not by their voices - then with their actions.  They drug him outside the city and stoned him.  All because he spoke the truth!

The story does not end there - God gets the last word!  Stephen saw heaven opened - he beheld the radiance of God's glory and it was evident on Stephen's face.  It says that as the "rocks rained down" from his attackers, he lifted his eyes to heaven and beheld the face of God.  In the midst of "rocks raining down" on us, would that be our response?  In beholding the face of God, he gives his very breath to God and in his dying words, he asks God to overlook the sin of this crowd.  He petitions God, "Don't blame them for their sin."  Nope, this is not a natural response of a man being stoned to death.  This is definitely a response that stems from a heart of compassion - a heart made pliable through the touch of the Holy Spirit.  

Forgiveness is only truly possible to those who recognize the value of the forgiveness they have received in Christ.  His testimony was great in all the "work" he did in his local church.  His life spoke volumes in the "deeds" of caring for the poor.  His teaching was "spot on" when he opened the Word to share the truths within.  But...what speaks the loudest is his ability to forgive even when his offender did not seek forgiveness!  Stephen left a legacy.  His legacy was that of forgiveness.  Not a bad legacy to leave, huh?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Engage in some "soul-talk"

 1-2 O my soul, bless God. From head to toe, I'll bless his holy name! O my soul, bless God, don't forget a single blessing!   3-5 He forgives your sins—every one. He heals your diseases—every one. He redeems you from hell—saves your life!  He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.  He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal. He renews your youth—you're always young in his presence. 
(Psalm 103:1-5)

There are times when we need to remind our soul - mind, will and emotions - to bless God with all that we have within us.  Mind wanders, will is weak, and emotions pull us a thousand different directions.  David was not above the very struggle we face daily - to keep our attention on God.  He starts by telling us "how" we do that - we engage in "soul-talk".  Look at what David does - he focuses his mind on the things God has done in his life.  He recounts the blessings of God.  He determines to bless God - he makes it a matter of his will. In so doing, he is bringing his emotions into alignment.

David focuses on several specific things:
  • God forgives our sins - not just in part, but completely; not just one or two, but all of them.  There are times when I just want to cringe in shame when I remember some of the sins over the course of my life.  When that happens, I have followed David's example and called to memory the fact that God is not "selective" in his forgiveness.  It is complete and it keeps no record.  What I seem to dredge up from my past in haunting memory of my sinfulness has already been forgiven - no longer remembered by God.
  • God not only heals our spiritual condition through forgiveness of sins, but he heals our physical condition by healing our diseases.  I've had a couple of worrisome physician's reports, biding time until surgery could be done and final pathology reports could be obtained.  In those times, I felt his presence.  He is my healer and I know that the reports were excellent because he is an excellent God!
  • God has redeemed us from hell - more than just forgiving us of our sins - he has ensured that we would never have to experience the horrific terror of hell.  If nothing else challenges us to sit up and give God our attention, that should!  If you haven't read what scripture tells us about hell, you may not understand the sheer awe that creates a desire to praise God for his deliverance from hell's torture.  
  • God has crowned us with love and mercy.  I've never been much of a "tiara" woman, but I am awed by the beauty of character that God produces in a life surrender to him.  That beauty of character is like a "crowning glory" over their life.  Love and mercy - the crown of paradise.  Love evokes the best in others.  Mercy overlooks the worst in others.  There is nothing more beautiful that can adorn a child of God than the crown of his love and mercy.
  • God has wrapped us in goodness - not greatness, but goodness.  We have a warped view of how we value individuals in our society today.  We often think that if they accomplish something "great" that adds to or gives them value.  God sees our value in the goodness of heart that he creates by the presence of his abiding Spirit within us.  Goodness is really moral excellence - the best part of God created within us by the indwelling of his Spirit.
  • If all this doesn't elicit some praise from your soul, then the final point should - he renews our youth!  We pay thousands for creams, tucks, lifts, and gym memberships - all to hold onto our youth.  What is amazing is that in the presence of God I am made young!  If you don't believe me - try it.  There is a restorative power that occurs in the presence of the Almighty God.
I want you to see one last thing before we leave this page today - David recounts that God HAS done these things.  It is not a "hope in the by-and-by" that God "might" do these things in his life.  They are an accomplished fact.  David celebrates the continual work of God in his life - continually forgiving him of his sins (past, present and future); continually healing his diseases; continually keeping us safe from Satan's evil; consistently displaying his love and mercy in us so that it might shine through us; continually indwelling us with his presence; and continually renewing us.

Feel like you have nothing to praise God for today - think again!  Then do some serious "soul-talk"!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hope, Liberty and Power

38-39"So I am telling you: Hands off these men! Let them alone. If this program or this work is merely human, it will fall apart, but if it is of God, there is nothing you can do about it—and you better not be found fighting against God!"  40-42That convinced them. They called the apostles back in. After giving them a thorough whipping, they warned them not to speak in Jesus' name and sent them off. The apostles went out of the High Council overjoyed because they had been given the honor of being dishonored on account of the Name. Every day they were in the Temple and homes, teaching and preaching Christ Jesus, not letting up for a minute.
(Acts 5:38-42)

The disciples have been making all kinds of new friends through the many converts to the Christian faith all over Jerusalem after the infilling of the Holy Spirit in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.  Scripture tells us that people had mixed emotions as it came to accepting this move of God those many years ago.  In fact, we see reports of those that absolute resisted the evidence right in front of them.  Others were a little "skeptical" - perhaps standing back and taking in what was going on, giving themselves a little time to "watch and wait" before they may any decision about what they'd do with this gospel message of deliverance and power.  There was always a crowd of those that immediately accepted the message of hope and aligned themselves with the New Testament believers.  In fact, we see reports that thousands were added to the "ranks" of the church daily.

In examining the two groups that were resistive or reluctant to the gospel message, we can see several interesting facts:
  • Acts 4:13-14 tells us that although the religious leaders and Pharisees wanted the disciples to stop speaking their message of hope in Christ, they were fascinated by how well these "unlearned" or "unschooled" men knew the very deep details of scripture.  They also had difficulty resisting the evidence that miracles were being worked in their midst - how could they argue with "evidence"?
  • Acts 4:21-22 reveals the inefficiency of their threats to "silence" the gospel message in those that are filled with the Holy Spirit.  Where there is a passion for Jesus, there is a purpose for life - it is difficult to silence one with a purpose!
  • Acts 5:11 recounts the perception of those that merely heard about what God was doing among the New Testament church.  Rumors were circulating of the miracles, the "community" of believers that was rapidly forming, and the fact that God was not to be "trifled" with.  The evidence of his outpouring caused a new reverence or "fear" of God.
  • Acts 5:12-16 gives us our first hint that there were what I will call "wary worriers" in the first church meetings or gatherings.   The scripture tells us "But even though people admired them a lot, outsiders were wary about joining them."  There were those that took it all in, but just couldn't come to the place that they moved beyond their "mistrust" of the gospel message.
  • Acts 5:29-32 recounts Peter's response to the leaders and Pharisees when they asked the disciples why they were continuing to spread the gospel message when they had specifically instructed them to keep silent.  Peter's response was one that tells it all:  "It's necessary to obey God rather than men."  There will always be those that just don't understand the allegiance of a man's heart with God's.

Earlier this week I was "blocked" from posting a link to my daily blog on one of the social networking websites I belong to.  The reason I received for the "block" on my daily post - someone reported the blog as offensive.  To that I say - YEEHAW!  The gospel message will ALWAYS be interpreted by some as offensive because it pricks at the conscience and it ultimately demands that we "do something" with what we have heard.  The gospel message is one of hope, liberty, and power.  Just as Peter said those many years ago - it is necessary to obey God rather than man.  

Look at our passage today.  The disciples had been whipped and warned not to speak in the name of Jesus anymore.  We don't understand this kind of "justice" in our culture today as our law enforcement agencies do not employ the "whip" as a means of attempting to correct action they find offensive.  What we do know about the method of whipping in the times the disciples were preaching was that it left the man bloody and often with open sores - at a minimum, the skin was blistered and raw.  Then the warning came - don't speak in the name of Jesus any longer.  Hadn't the disciples already told the leaders that it would be impossible for them to do that?

I want us to look at the response of the disciples - they left that day feeling overjoyed because they had been given the honor of being dishonored - all on account of the authority of the name of Jesus!  I wonder if we'd feel that it was an "honor to be dishonored" today on account of someone taking offense at the message of hope in Jesus' name.  I can only hope we would!  Don't ever be afraid to speak the most powerful name - the name that carries ALL authority - JESUS.  That is the ONE name that carries the deepest hope.  That is the ONLY name that can set the captive free.  That is THE NAME that opens the windows of heaven.  Speak it!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pentecost - the Word made alive!

8-12With that, Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, let loose: "Rulers and leaders of the people, if we have been brought to trial today for helping a sick man, put under investigation regarding this healing, I'll be completely frank with you—we have nothing to hide. By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the One you killed on a cross, the One God raised from the dead, by means of his name this man stands before you healthy and whole. Jesus is 'the stone you masons threw out, which is now the cornerstone.' Salvation comes no other way; no other name has been or will be given to us by which we can be saved, only this one."  13-14They couldn't take their eyes off them—Peter and John standing there so confident, so sure of themselves! Their fascination deepened when they realized these two were laymen with no training in Scripture or formal education. They recognized them as companions of Jesus, but with the man right before them, seeing him standing there so upright—so healed!—what could they say against that?
(Acts 4:8-14)

We have been exploring the results of the first Pentecost within the New Testament church.  Acts 4 begins with the story of Peter and John, two of the disciples, being imprisoned for having healed the man of his inability to walk.  The man had been giving testimony in the Temple and to everyone that would listen to the story of his healing.  Peter and John had simply been on their way to their daily prayer time when he had petitioned them for something that would meet what he had thought would meet his needs - he was asking for monies, but he got more than money could buy!  His exuberance had caused the leaders and Pharisees to become upset with the teaching that Jesus was alive and he was now healing people through is disciples.  So, they deal with their "perceived threat" by locking Peter and John in jail.

Now, Peter and John are brought before the leaders - kind of like an arraignment hearing.  They are asked to give an explanation for their "behavior" in healing this man and in preaching the message that Jesus was raised from the dead.  We are told in the verses that lead into our passage that by the time these disciples were arrested and thrown into jail, over 5,000 had come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.  In one simple action - the obedience of the disciples to give what they had - thousands were touched, convicted and their lives changed forever.  One of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to change our focus from "internal" to "external" - seeing the needs around us and then finding ways to meet them as the Spirit leads.

The leaders are incensed by the simplicity of the disciples' actions - they simply spoke and the man was healed; they powerfully declared the Messiah had come and thousands were dedicating their lives to serve him; they shared dynamic truths from the Word of God without any formal training.  This "framed" the leaders and Pharisees in a "bad light" - pointing out their lack of power, their fruitless explanation of the Word of God, and their inability to impact lives in any way that was close to "dynamic".  It is not uncommon to see the reaction of those that do not understand the simplicity of the gospel message as one of criticism, mistrust, and often even denial of the reality of what is right before them.  Unless the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the truth, we remain blind to what is right before our eyes!

There is a boldness displayed in the testimony of Peter before the leaders - "nothing to hide", being "completely frank" with them.  In other words, Peter was going to "tell it like it is" - he was not pulling any punches, masking over the events of the past day, or making any excuses for his powerful words that cut to the core of those who stood guilty of murdering the Messiah just weeks before.  He had a "dynamo" of power igniting every word that flowed from his mouth - it was the Holy Spirit empowering him that gave him this boldness.  We can count on the Holy Spirit to give us the very words we need in the times we lack the ability to say what needs to be said - he is there to give testimony to Jesus through us.

The message they bring is plain and simple - salvation comes by no other means than through Jesus Christ!  That is the testimony of every disciple.  The evidence was standing right before them - the man healed, upright, and walking strong.  There was no denying the testimony or the display of its power.  The leaders thought they'd silence these "rabble-rousers" - the plan of the Lord was that these disciples would silence the leaders!  

The outcome of the infilling of the Holy Spirit was evident in the lives of the disciples - and it impacted the lives of others in their pursuit of normal daily life.  In turn, the lives they impacted continued the process of sharing the message of hope and the power of deliverance.  Pentecost produced than any seminary training could ever hope to - these were unschooled disciples, yet they knew the Word of God intimately - the Word was alive in them by the power of the Holy Spirit resident within.  Is there evidence of this kind of power in your life?  Is there evidence that the Word of God is alive in you?  It is available to you through the infilling of the Holy Spirit - just ask!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pentecost - are you ready for ignition?

36"All Israel, then, know this: There's no longer room for doubt—God made him Master and Messiah, this Jesus whom you killed on a cross."  37Cut to the quick, those who were there listening asked Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers! Brothers! So now what do we do?"  38-39Peter said, "Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites."  40He went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, "Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!"  41-42That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
(Acts 2:36-42)

Pentecost has an effect on the lives of those who experience it - both first-hand as one internally touched by it, and those that are affected by the display of what they see and hear in a life that has been transformed by the power of God. When the one who ignites life-transforming change within us is at work - others notice.  As we examine our passage today, we find that Peter is concluding his message to the onlookers and over-hearers of the events of that Pentecost day. The onlookers recognized some of those in the upper room and wondered at the transformation they observed.  Those that were simply overhearing the wind, the speaking in other languages, and the exuberant praise were curious enough to stick around to see what Peter had to say about it.  Now, they had heard exactly what God had had to say about it and it "stung them" to the core - bringing conviction and ultimately repentance to a great multitude of onlookers and over-hearers.

Wherever the power of the Holy Spirit is, there will be signs that follow.  If the  Holy Spirit resides in us, there should be signs that follow!  The work of the Holy Spirit that day is repeated time and time again in our own lives and then in the lives of others we come into contact with.  His work is first of all to bring conviction of sin - not just an awareness that it exists, but deep, purposeful conviction.  It is more than being convinced that we are sinners, but a desire to do something about it.  Conviction of this type leads to confession of the sin - just like these onlookers asked "hey....what do we do now?"  Nothing gratifies God more than to have one of his kids ask, "Lord, what do I do now?"  When our hearts are seeking this answer, he knows we are open to the transforming work he is eagerly waiting to begin.

Where the Holy Spirit is given access, there is also an opportunity to get purposeful clarity as to the steps to take.  God is not a God of confusion - he delights in making a man's path straight (not only showing us the path to take, but outlining the steps we should take along that path).  These onlookers received absolutely immediate and understandable direction about what it was that God expected - Repent, be baptized and get involved in the local church!  First, God asked them to have a different mindset about the one they had crucified (or at least watched be crucified).  He wanted them to see Jesus as Messiah, not merely a great teacher or prophet.  The first step we always take in receiving a break-through in our lives is to get what we think or understand about Christ RIGHT!

The Holy Spirit has the ultimate goal of giving us revelation of who Jesus is, what he desires, and how to get to the place he desires for us to be as a member of his family.  We call this revelation - the unveiling of what had been hidden to our understanding.  The instruction given to these believers to be baptized and then to involve themselves in a local church was simply a call to "get over" the old life and pursue a new one.  Baptism symbolizes us taking both the mindful and spiritual steps of saying "good-bye" to the old way of living - renouncing the old life - and determining in mind, body and spirit to live as Christ would have us to live.  Getting established in a congregation of other believers builds accountability into our lives and helps keep us on the path of growth.

The response of those who took to heart what Peter shared that day was to devote themselves - commit themselves - to the passionate and purposeful pursuit of the revelation of Jesus within their lives.  That is ultimately what God desires of each of us - to be on fire for him, pursuing him with passion, and to desire more and more of him to be manifest in us.  How do we know if this is our pursuit?  Remember this:  Where there is fire, there is evidence of fire!  Even when fire has passed over, moved on from where it was once focused, there is evidence that fire had touched that spot.  We see evidence of the Holy Spirit's work in our lives - in our love for the Word of God growing, in our desire to love others in fresh ways (like without focus on the differences, but on the similarities), and in the desire to commune with him in prayer and worship.

Pentecost is a starting point - not the ultimate goal.  What is ignited in our hearts by the infilling of the Holy Spirit is just the beginning.  As we continue to be filled, our lives continue to become displays of his power.  Are you ready for the igniting power of Christ in your life?