Category Archives: Paul

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 435 – David & Saul

03/29/16 – 435

1 Samuel 23:13-18 So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there.

14 David stayed in the wilderness strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands.

15 While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. 16 And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. 17 “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” 18 The two of them made a covenant before the Lord. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh.

This would be the last time the two friends saw each other in this life. A sad parting, to be sure. It seems like so much more could have been accomplished if Saul had just stepped out of the way, and allowed it to happen naturally, doesn’t it? But then it often seems like that in life. One person with a wrong attitude in the wrong position can impede a remarkable amount of good works and progress.

I think of workers who undermine coworkers plans that would be beneficial to everyone simply because it wasn’t their idea, and they didn’t want someone else to get the credit. The potential cost or risk doesn’t seem to matter at all. Saul put the entire kingdom at risk by using the army to chase down David, who was never a threat to the people in any way.

Deep in the desert of Maon, if you follow the shore of the Dead Sea, you will eventually come to a very small stream that flows from the hills into the sea. If you follow the stream about a mile or so to it’s source, you’ll find yourself at a beautiful pool of water, surrounded by a few trees and plants, hidden from the desert by sheer rock walls on 3 sides. This place is called En Gedi. In these walls are 2 large caverns, the lower one of which is now hidden by hanging vegetation.

It was probably this cave in which David and his men were hiding when Saul came to the oasis and camped for the night. To prove that he was no threat to Saul, David waited until everyone was asleep (apparently even the sentries), snuck up to the sleeping Saul, and cut the tassel off of the corner of his robe. When he returned to the cave, David called out to wake Saul and showed him what he had done, basically saying ‘See? I could have killed you if I wanted to!’

There is so much to be learned from this story, I really don’t want to rush it. For today, let’s pray about those ‘Saul-like’ people in our own lives. Ask the Holy Spirit to help us learn from this story ways of dealing with them that we don’t know or haven’t tried. Maybe just having the chance for revenge doesn’t mean it’s the best way to eliminate the problem. What would the Spirit have you do?

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 415

02/20/16 – 415

I wonder if Paul ever got homesick. You know, did he have a favorite place to go, something he used to do with his nephew when he was little? We know virtually nothing of his life before he became a persecutor of Christians. As I prepare to leave for far off places, I can’t help but wonder if he had similar feelings.

After all, we work hard to make our homes comfortable and well, homey. We often hold on to the things we love from the past, just because they bring back good memories or pleasant feelings. My wife and I like old things (maybe that’s why she likes me). So we have things like my great-grandmother’s secretary desk and mantle clock. I have a sweater that I gave my Dad for Christmas when I was 15 or so. Now I wear it, even though it’s got some signs of its age. As I write this I am sitting in an office chair that’s about 110 years old. Don’t know who had it – I just like it.

The point is, I like my home. I love spending time here with Jill, having friends over, having my kids and grandkids visit. At the same time, I’m finishing up my packing to leave for Peru early tomorrow morning. I am excited about it; I know that God has called me to go. I have friends there, and a few that are like a second family. My ‘familia Peruana’. Yet, I know that at the same time, I’ll miss being home. That is – if we have any free time, which is doubtful.

Paul didn’t seem to have that problem. At least if he did, no one ever wrote about it. Maybe they didn’t have time to blog either. Maybe that’s why he didn’t seem to mind getting arrested – it gave him a break! Maybe Paul was like:

“Sorry, Eusibius, can’t make those committee meetings this week, you’ll have to handle it. Well, yeah. I’m in jail. Again. Hey, by the way, do you think you could send me over some paper and a pencil? I might be here a while.”

Here’s my theory. I believe that Paul, whatever his relationship with his family of birth, became a part of the ‘family of God’ in a way that most of us may sing about but never really realize. When he became a Christian, his family became his brothers and sisters in Christ, Jew and Gentile. It didn’t matter where they were born, what they had been before, or what color their skin – only that they too had joined the family by becoming children of God through Jesus Christ.

I have another theory about Paul. I believe that because of his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road, Jesus’ heaven became a home for him that was as real as any place he had ever lived on earth, maybe more so. So, the closer he was to death, the closer he was to being home. It’s like after a long trip. Good or bad, when you’re on the way home, watching the miles drop away, knowing that with each one the time is getting closer when you will be walking into the safety and comfort of your own home, your family welcoming (or at least your dog will be happy to see you). (Or your cats.)

It’s hard to set aside our emotions and get on with the business that Christ has set before us. But that is often exactly what we must do in order to get the job done, and to do it well. Here is Paul’s advice:


Philippians 3: 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

In other words, keep moving forward. No matter where you are, or what failures or hurts there have been in the past, keep doing what God is calling you to do. Let Him guide you, and you will end the race well.

That’s the thing we need to remember. That’s the thing we need to focus on. Getting home, having finished the work that Christ has called us to do here on earth. Like the servants with the talents, He has given us all something to invest. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the one to try to explain to Him why it’s OK that I buried mine my whole life, when the reason He gave it was for me to use it to bring more of the family home.

That’s our prayer for today. That He would truly lead us, and help us to get through the roadblocks that so often stop us from continuing our work, and are so often set up not by others or even by Satan, but by our own emotions.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 414

02/19/16 – 414

1 Cor 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. NASB

That was our main passage of focus yesterday, and where we pick up again today. Why? because we’re still ‘turning the gem. There are still new things to be learned from it by looking at it from a new angle. Yesterday we discussed it from the standpoint that we shouldn’t all claim to be teachers. However, we said, we are teaching all the time whether we realize it or not.

Today I’d like us to look at it from the point of view of a person who knows he or she is a teacher. You know you’re good, you pray for your students and all that. I would start by saying there is nothing wrong with that in itself – that’s what you should be doing. But there is a danger. Want to guess? The danger (and it brings down many a great teacher) is pride/ego.

Let me tell you a story. When I was in the process of becoming a paramedic, I realized that what we did (or failed to do) really could mean the difference between life and death for people. That’s when it ‘got real’. I decided that I couldn’t do this thing halfway – I had to give it my absolute best in every way. And, I like to think I did. I even sought work in an ER that would allow me much more experience in patient care, i.e. starting difficult IVs etc. I taught classes because that sort of forced me to not only keep up, but stay ahead of the game. Let’s just say students ask many interesting questions, and police and firefighters are a unique but rewarding challenge. Usually.

Anyway, After a while, I guess one develops a reputation, and I knew mine had grown in the world of Emergency Medical Services only because some friends has said things, but I didn’t give their comments too much weight – until…

I attended a class at the National Fire Academy in Emmetsburg, MD. The class was for EMS Leaders and Directors, and there were about 50 of us from all over the US. I was introduced to one whose name I saw regularly in the journals. Before I could say a word, he asked “John Vogel – you’re from somewhere near Chicago, right?” I said yes. He said “I’ve heard of you. Sounds like you’re doing a great job!” Now mind you, I had never been written about in a trade magazine or anything like it. And he was not from the area.

I dismissed it as a fluke, until a month or so later. I was in a department store with my girls and we bumped into an EMT that worked with my son. We had never met. He grabbed my hand to shake it, and it was almost comedic as he couldn’t seem to stop or let go, saying “I finally get the meet ‘the Legend’!

Wow. I had no idea. And I can tell you that for me, suddenly finding myself at the top of that pedestal with nothing to hang on to – was downright scary! Because the truth is, I wasn’t that good. I wasn’t better than everyone else. Oh, I studied hard, trained hard and all that. But I had a secret. One that I shouldn’t have kept to myself. I prayed.

I prayed before shifts. I prayed in the ambulance on the way to calls. I prayed as I approached patients who just looked bad from a distance. We called it the ‘O’ sign. When you first see them you say “Oh!” When someone asked for help because they already missed 4 or five IV attempts and the patient is crashing, I prayed. I prayer as the needle pierced the skin. I prayed as I wrote my reports at the hospital. Get it? But no one knew. I prayed silently, quietly and quickly. And failed to give God the glory He deserved, while people were giving it to me instead. Hey! I was not ‘a’, but ‘the’ legend!

So, I was faced with a choice. I could have let people think what they wanted. My ego certainly would have enjoyed that! But all I kept picturing was myself up on that tall, narrow pedestal. It sure looked like a lonely, wobbly place and a long way from which to fall. Scary. Another was that I could have just backed off, not pushed so hard. But I was raised to believe that a Christian always does his best no matter what the job. In fact – it was Paul who taught us that:

Colossians 3:23-24 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.

 It was finally option #3 that I chose, and have never regretted. This is another lesson from Paul. Go figure.

1 Corinthians 10:31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

But I really like the way Matthew put it also:

Matthew 5:16  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

I continued to give it my best. The difference was I began to give God the credit He was due. Oh, I still prayed silently at times. But when I could, I prayed openly. I prayed with patients. I prayed for them. When someone asked me what my ‘secret’ was I told them. When they laughed, I told them again. Until they got it, or walked away.

Maybe that’s why God refused to take away Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’. Just so he’d have a reminder that all he did was only through God’s strength. Why not pray today for forgiveness for those times when you got a compliment (or just nothing), and failed to give Him His due, and for the Spirit to prompt you if ever you are about to do it again?

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 413

02/18/16 – 413

Well folks, I actually thought we were finished with our friend Paul yesterday, but the Holy Spirit won’t quite let me go yet. There are still a few things, apparently, that we need to glean from Him. I also want to let you all know that my wife, Jill, and I will be leaving early Sunday morning for a mission trip to Peru. No, not Peru, Illinos. The big one. We will be working in 2 main places, called Pucallpa and Contamana.

See it just to the left of Brazil?

We will be leading a group of 20, and are hoping to build 3 buildings, put siding on a fourth, do some painting on another and run 2 Bible schools in the 2 weeks we’re there. And in our spare time…

So, I’m telling you this for several reasons. First and foremost, we need your prayers. Next, writing these devotions takes time. I know, I make it look easy (wink, wink) and sometimes it is, but it still takes time, and that is a commodity that promises to be in short supply the next couple of weeks. So, here’s my proposal.

I can do one of 3 things. Give me your feedback in the next 2 days, and we’ll see democracy in action. Here are your choices:

  1. We can take a break. I can resume the stories upon my return, which would make it Monday March 7th for the first installment.
  2. I can re-issue some of the earlier devotionals, although the early ones were not ‘Bible Stories For Grown-ups’. You can see them on the website if you want an example – they are all in the archives.
  3. I can blog as time allows about our own story, let you know what’s happening on the trip, and how it relates to scripture. I’ll even add pictures! God has already been at work in a marvelous way, and we haven’t even left yet!

I’ll be waiting to hear from you. Thanks in advance for your prayers. Now back to Paul.


In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul said this:

1 Cor 1:11 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

 That’s the NIV (New International Version). The New American Standard Version (NASB) and other put it like this: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”

 To me, this has always been one of the gutsiest verses in scripture. Think about it. Countless lives – and countless eternal souls, lay in the balance. You only have time to teach them one thing. It had better be a biggie! Then you think ‘Hey, I just have to tell them to live like I do, and they’ll be good to go!’

Not only are you opening your life up to people like a reality TV show, but at the same time you are making the claim that your example will be good enough. That, ladies and gentlemen, is very scary to me. Especially considering the Word’s advice to those making such claims:

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

Paul was (obviously) the consummate teacher. He simply never stopped. Either through his words or his purposeful example, he was always teaching someone something about Christ. I highlighted the word ‘purposeful’ because like it or not, all of us are always teaching someone something by our example. It’s just usually not on purpose.

Even when you don’t think anyone is watching or anyone cares, they do. People who haven’t seen you for 50 years will remember you as the kid who was mean, or the little girl who was so nice. Have you ever heard people say that they don’t go to church (code for not accepting Christ) because it’s full of hypocrites? They can say that because they have seen people living their lives in ways that are completely inconsistent with what Jesus taught.

How about you? If someone asked you today how to live like Christ, could you say ‘Just watch me’? If not, why not?

I think our lesson for today is this – we should all be able to say what Paul said. But we know we can’t. Or we’re afraid to put ourselves out there. Being up on a pedestal makes you a great target. I’ll talk more on this tomorrow. For today, let’s pray for God’s guidance for these devotionals over the next 2 weeks, and for the Holy Spirit to move in us so strongly that we don’t have to worry or feel self-conscious if we say what Paul said – because it’s not us who is in control.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 412

02/17/16 – 412

Yesterday I wrote that I had read somewhere that a study done among Christians showed that even though most said that they weren’t afraid of death (they knew where they were going), the vast majority was still afraid of the process of dying.

Would it be painful?

Would it be quick?

Would there be any warning?

Would it be peaceful?

This made a lot of sense to me. I tried to find it but no luck. I did, however, find any number of articles filled with pithy advice as to how to avoid this fear, or to get rid of it if you have it. That’s great, I thought! Like everyone really needs one more person telling them “Just give it to God!” or “Have no fear.” Easy to say, really hard to do, isn’t it?

That kind of ‘guidance’ is (to me) based on the assumption that we all have complete empirical control over our emotions. In other words, we can turn them on and off like a switch. To be fair, I have known 1 or 2 people that seemed to have that ability. They were pretty scary. But, at least we can remember that our actions also drive our emotions, as when we talked about love being a verb. We can feel fear without letting it paralyze us. In most cases anyway. And there are things we can do to help diminish fear. Often, much of the fear surrounding death is simply fear of the unknown. If this is the case, we can gather more from credible sources (I can’t emphasize that enough – read The Cancer Story to learn why).


That’s not an all-encompassing solution though. There are still things about death and the life beyond that we just don’t know. And, as our medical knowledge develops, we can predict more and more about the dreaded ‘process’. Of course, I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak from close to 30 years experience as a paramedic/emergency nurse. I have seen many, many people die. (Yes, I was that good! Yes, I’m kidding – as far as you know.) Probably more than most of you who will read or listen to this devotional. They were people of every age, from the not-yet-ready-to-be-born to the very old. Some knew for months in advance, some had no idea death would come for them that particular day.

I like to think that I’ve learned a few things. One is this – what’s the ‘best’ way to die? Some say suddenly, instantly, with no warning. Others say peacefully, in your sleep, after having a chance for goodbyes to your loved ones. What I’ve learned is there are always pros & cons. Pretty much the ‘best’ way is however it happened to someone else.

If I had to identify those who seemed to have no fear about their death fell into 2 groups. Either they never saw it coming so there was no time to be afraid, or they were committed Christians, absolutely sure that even if there was pain, Christ would be there to make sure it wasn’t unbearable, and just like Paul, that the reward would be so, so worth it.

Another fear surrounding death was fear not for oneself, but for those left behind. How will my family get along? What will happen to my kids? My grandchildren? Will my spouse remarry? Sometimes…..will they forget me?

Notice this. Both of these fears can be minimized not by scrambling to fix them in a crisis, but by building the right relationships throughout your life. The first by building a right relationship with Jesus. The second by building a right relationship with your family and others. Also take note that these take time, they don’t work well as a last-minute preparation for death – they are instead a way of life. Paul wrote:

1 Thessalonians 4:13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.

King David wrote:

Psalm 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

It’s natural to be afraid – somewhat. It’s OK. But remember also what the Apostle John wrote:

1 John 4:11-18 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Don’t ask for God to take away your fear. Ask for Him to draw you closer to Him.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 411

02/16/16 – 411

We’re now at the point in the story where Luke, the writer, just sort of leaves us hanging. What happens next? It’s like having your favorite TV show end it’s season with a big cliffhanger, only to find out it didn’t get renewed in the fall. Oh, we do know some. Paul himself drops hints here and there in his letter, which we of course know as ‘epistles’. What’s the difference between an epistle and a regular letter?


As far as I can tell, an epistle allows a certain class of people to make themselves appear much smarter than everyone else by using explanations like this one from Wikipedia: “A standardized formulae for epistolary compositions existed by the time of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. The epistolary formulae used in the Ramesside Period found its roots in the letters composed during the Amarna Period of the Twentieth Dynasty”. In other words, it’s an old letter.


Anyway, it seems that Paul was eventually acquitted and set free, at least he hinted so in his letter to Philemon v22 ““Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers”.

It’s thought that he wrote his letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, Phillipians and Philemon while waiting for his trial before the Emperor Nero, the well-known bluegrass fiddle player. He was really hot stuff in his day. Anyway, there are a few Roman historians who confirm this theory.

It appears as though Paul made good use of the few years he had left to him, preaching across the Roman Empire from Spain to Asia Minor. The Roman historian Eusebius wrote that Paul was eventually arrested again, this time beheaded and buried in Rome, still under the reign of Nero – probably after Nero had begun to go mad. The same thing happened later to Peter.

We don’t know what the charges were. We do know that Paul was well aware of what was happening. In his second letter to Timothy he wrote:

2 Tim 4:6-8 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.


Now we need to get serious, I’m afraid. I read somewhere that a study done among Christians showed that even though most said that they weren’t afraid of death (they knew where they were going), the vast majority was still afraid of the process of dying.

Would it be painful?

Would it be quick?

Would there be any warning?

Would it be peaceful?

I want to talk more about that tomorrow. But for now, I want you to notice that Paul has never seemed to be concerned. I’m sure he was not a superman who was never bothered by pain. He even prayed about a ‘thorn in the flesh’ and God refused to take it away. So it wasn’t that. What then?

Here’s what I think. I think he learned that no matter what kind of pain he had to endure in this life, no matter how long or how terrible, that Jesus would always give him the grace to make it through. Second, and most important, there is no pain on earth that can take away from the joy that the Christian will know once they are with the Savior.

What seems like an unbearable agony right now will disappear even from memory. Paul knew this. That’s why he was so accepting. He knew that he had done what he had been called to do. Death wasn’t evil human beings kicking him off the planet. It was his heavenly Father bringing him home.

Now, don’t hurry to get there. Get your job done. But when it’s time, remember. He will bring you home, and whatever pain there may be will be gone in the blink of an eye, replaced by a joy such as you’ve never imagined.

Is there someone close to you that’s getting ready for that journey right now? Pray for a swift, smooth journey. But thank God that He is at the tiller.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 410

02/15/16 – 410

The island on which they had landed was called Malta. If you think of Italy as a boot with the toe pointed toward Africa, Malta is a little more than halfway along that line. The island was inhabited, and the people there were fairly welcoming – especially after seeing a few very impressive events concerning Paul. When they first gathered after making their way to shore, they gathered wood and started a fire. I imagine that fire felt really good after a bracing dawn swim in the Mediterranean! The heat drove a poisonous snake out of the woodpile, and it latched on to Paul’s hand. He shook it off into the fire, but it was too late. The natives stood by and waited for him to die.

They waited. And waited. And waited some more. When Paul didn’t even get sick from the bite, they decided he was a god. He and the others were brought to the home of a man named Publius – probably the governor of the island. The text says that he showed them great hospitality for three days. But he had a problem of his own. His father was very sick “with fever and dysentery”.

Paul prayed, then went in and laid hands on the father, and he was healed! After that, all the islanders came to him, bringing their sick to be healed. The group ended up staying there for 3 more months, which brought them safely through the winter.

At last a ship came from Alexandria, and they were able to continue their journey. When they finally made it to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself with only one soldier to guard him. Sort of a house arrest with a human ankle bracelet. The Romans still had no idea why he was there, or what he was being charged with. Which is kind of sad, that they would continue to keep someone in custody for so long without even a hint that he had broken any laws, let alone knowing what those laws might have been. On the other hand, God wanted Paul in Rome – and here he was!

Paul started his ministry as he always did when in a new place – by calling together the Jewish leaders first. In turn, they gathered together many other Jews who came to hear Paul’s words on Christianity, because there had been so many different stories circulating they didn’t know what was true anymore.

Acts 28:23-28

23 They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25 They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet:

26 “‘Go to this people and say,

“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;

you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”

27 For this people’s heart has become calloused;

they hardly hear with their ears,

and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,

hear with their ears,understand with their hearts

and turn, and I would heal them.’

28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”

So let’s make sure we understand. The people didn’t know what the truth was. They finally got to hear it from an expert. But many didn’t like what he said, so they chose not to believe it. Sound about right? In today’s language, I think it would be something like ‘Just because it’s true for you doesn’t mean it’s true for me’.

It’s called relativism. The gist is that the truth changes according to your belief. If you believe in God – He exists (but only for you). If you don’t believe in God, He does not exist (for you). Are you confused yet? Try a few more:

If you believe the sky is purple – it is.

If you don’t believe smoking causes cancer, go ahead. You’re safe.

If you don’t believe in gravity, better hang on. You’re about to float off into space!

Yes, they get more and more ludicrous – or so it seems. But I don’t know – I think it’s just as silly to think that it is my belief that causes an All-Powerful Creator God to pop in or out of existence as it is to think that it’s my belief in gravity that keeps my feet on the ground.

The reality is that truth is not relative to what you or I believe. If the Bible is right, and God is Who it says He is, and every last person on earth refused to believe in Him, He wouldn’t magically be erased from the universe. On the other hand, If it’s all wrong, nothing more than a ‘fairy tale’ made up by ignorant people who were afraid of thunder and lightning, and every last one of us believed, God would not magically appear out of nowhere! Either He exists, or He doesn’t.

So, it would seem that the wise course of action would be to examine the evidence, determine what the truth is, and live your life according to what you learn. But to me, it can be even simpler than that. To live your life according to the teachings of Jesus is not the legalistic, restrictive lifestyle that people would have you believe it is. It is the most liberating, joyful, fulfilling way to live I’ve ever known. Take it from a guy who’s tried a few other ways.

Believe first, and live according to your faith, or live the life, and see if Christ doesn’t find His way into your heart along the way. Chicken or egg?

Let’s pray today that our loved ones who have been blinded by the lies will be able to see the truth – the real truth, and make some wise decisions about their lives. Pray that you will be able (like Paul) to be the example for them.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 409

02/14/16 – 409

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a Sabbath’s rest. It’s been quite a week with our guy Paul, hasn’t it? By the way, Happy Valentine’s Day! (Pssst! For any of you guys who totally forgot, I hope you are doing early morning devotions, because if so, you still have time to run out to Walgreen’s and grab a card. I won’t tell – promise.)

I always find it interesting that so many churches go out of their way to extend the ‘love theme’ of the day to include everyone, single or couple. I get the point, we don’t want anyone to be hurt or feel left out. It can be lonely enough to be single, without watching everyone else celebrate the fact that they are not. And we do the same thing with Mother’s Day (if you are a mother, were a mother, or had a mother…), and Father’s Day and so on.

I really do understand, but honestly I find my mind going both ways. It’s like having a birthday party for one child yet celebrating as though it was everyone else’s also. I ask myself, when do we reach the point at which if everyone is special, no one is special?

Call me mean. Call me a rebel. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making people feel special (in other words – loved) for different reasons at different times. Might someone be offended, or feel left out? Sure. But I guess I think that as Christians, it’s more our job to make people feel loved all the time, not by minimizing the things that make others stand out (if even for a day) but by seeing them as Jesus does, and celebrating what we see in them.

You see, that’s what Christ does with all of us. He sees the things that make us unique and special, and brings them out. They become what is the best in us, and that gives us cause to celebrate. He’s really good at it, too. For the rest of us, it takes some work. Sometimes, we really have to look.

So, I’ve said all that to say this – why not start looking today? Go to church, look at those people that you might not normally consider, and try to see them as Jesus does. If you were going to throw them a party, what would be the theme, the reason for the celebration? If you don’t know, maybe that’s someone you need to get to know a bit better.

If you have a hard time, go to prayer. Ask Jesus how is it that He can see something so special in you? He must, you know. Think about it.

Have a special, special Valentine’s Day worship. May you feel loved, and may you help someone else feel the love of Christ flowing through you as well.

John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 408

02/13/16 – 408

Eventually – or maybe a better word is finally – Paul was sent off to Rome. The problem was that it was now getting late in the year – winter was fast approaching and with it some pretty bad sailing weather. Luke doesn’t tell us how Paul knew what was going to happen, only that he knew.

Acts 27:9b-12 So Paul warned them,10 “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.”11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship.12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on 

Bad idea.

A seemingly perfect wind quickly turned into a hurricane, and for days it was all the crew could do just to hang on and stay alive. They were so busy they couldn’t even eat! When they were just about to give up, Paul spoke up again. Or rather, God spoke through Paul. (Although I wonder if the ‘I told you so’ in the beginning wasn’t a little more Paul than God.)

Verse 21 After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss.22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.23 Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”

Want to guess what happened next? As the water grew shallower the sailors tried to sneak overboard in the lifeboats during the night. Paul warned the soldiers guarding the prisoners, who cut the ropes and released the boats! Later, Paul was able to get everyone to finally eat, and shortly after dawn the ship hit a sand bar.

Now the soldiers had a dilemma. Allowing prisoners to escape was not something the Romans took lightly. Their solution was simple – kill them all before abandoning the ship. But God has a way of making sure His plan is carried out. The centurion must have finally realized that Paul was not some ordinary criminal, especially after all his help through the voyage.

He ordered everyone who could swim to head for shore, and those who couldn’t to grab a piece of wreckage or anything that would float. All 276 souls on board made it safely to the shore.

Whew! How’s that for a story? Keep this chapter in mind next time someone tells you that the Bible is boring!

So, as always, the question for us is this – what is it that we are to take away? For me, it’s the example of the 2 main characters. The first is Paul, of course. Think about all he’s been through so far, and still he stands firm. Not only firm in his faith, but in the way he is living it out. Jesus told us to love our enemies. That’s one of the things we have the most trouble with, generally speaking. Yet we see Paul not only staying in such close communication with the Holy Spirit that he was given clear foreknowledge of some pretty critical events, but he used that knowledge to help those who were keeping him prisoner.

Think about it – he probably could have used it to plan his escape and leave the rest to their fate – but he didn’t. He helped them as Jesus would have, right down to seeing that they were all fed.

The other (I believe) under-credited character in this saga is the centurion. Although not a Christian (as far as we know), he was obviously a man of integrity. He was a man who knew right from wrong, and lived according to his moral code even if it was risky. The world needs men and women like this no matter what, and in my humble opinion these are really not much more than an introduction away from becoming a child of Jesus Christ.

Let’s pray today that whether our day brings us drama or boredom, risk or routine, that we can live each moment according to Paul’s example, as he followed the teachings of Jesus so well.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 407

02/12/16 – 407

We left off yesterday with King Agrippa waiting to hear Paul’s defense for himself in Caesaria. He had been held there for over 2 years by the former Roman governor Felix, mostly because Felix wanted him to offer a bribe. When the new governor came (Festus), he quickly determined that Paul had broken no Roman laws, and offered to send him back to Jerusalem for trial. Paul stood on his rights as a (half) Roman citizen to appeal before Caesar in Rome.

Some say this was really dumb on Paul’s part. But we must remember that Paul was following God’s call for him, and he knew that specifically included going to Rome.

Acts 19:21 Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” NASB

We should also remember that there was an ongoing conspiracy afoot to murder Paul at first opportunity, even if he was still under guard (if that guard was light enough). But when the Jewish King Agrippa came to visit the new governor, he was curious and wanted to hear what Paul had to say. Festus, on the other hand, didn’t want to send Paul to Caesar without even knowing what to charge him with. Not offering a bribe?

Anyway, Acts 26 is the account of that defense – too long to put here but well worth the read. It is basically Paul preaching his own testimony again, about how Jesus came to him on the Damascus road, the witnesses, and what he has been doing since. He pointed out that this has all been according to the predictions of the Jewish prophets.

When he had finished he asked, “27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

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

30 The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them.

Once again, the ‘almost’ Christian. So sad, really. There are many, although I believe that may change since now it is becoming more socially acceptable not to believe, people don’t feel the social pressure to pretend like they used to. What’s really sad is that we have grown to think it’s OK to be in that ‘almost’ place – just riding the fence. The problem is that when we do that, it’s much too easy to fall, especially with Satan on one side pulling as hard as He can, and Jesus on the other, simply reaching out His hand.

If you weren’t on the fence, Satan couldn’t even reach you. Yet there you are. It’s a dangerous place to live. When Paul was finished, Festus and Agrippa were in agreement, at least.

31 After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”

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

So Paul was going to Rome anyway. But he didn’t mind. He wasn’t afraid. He knew that this was God’s will for him. And that made all the difference.

So, the question for today is this: how close have you been to Christ? Close enough to hear the Spirit’s call, His specific will for you? Or are you closer to the fence, where all the commotion is going on? I have this mental picture of a sort of riotous sports scene, where Satan and his friends shout and celebrate every time they manage to pull someone down on their side in this great spiritual tug-o-war.

Let’s pray today for Jesus’ Holy Spirit to draw us closer to Him, and farther away from the fence, than we’ve ever been. What do you say?

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 406

02/11/16 – 406

Paul had been taken down once again by that great weapon we call rumor. The Jews from Asia that had followed him to Jerusalem had seen him speaking to a Greek man and that was good enough. They assumed that he had taken the man (a Gentile) into the temple, thereby defiling it. Whether they actually believed their own lie, who knows? But it was enough to start a riot.

As the crowd of Jews was beating Paul, Roman soldiers came to restore order. They bound Paul in chains and had to carry him into a barracks because the crowd was so thick. Paul asked for a chance to speak to the people. He told them his story, about how he had come to believe in Christ. They just got madder, and screamed for the Romans to kill him. Just as the Roman centurian ordered him to be flogged, Paul told him about his dual citizenship. Understand, the centurian could do just about whatever he wanted to a Jew. However, a Roman – even a half-Roman – had rights. The chains came off but Paul remained in custody for his own protection and to keep the peace.

You have to give those Jews (the ones that hated Paul so much) an ‘A’ for persistence. Some of them took an oath not to eat until they had killed him. They came up with a plan for 40 of them to draw Paul out with a few guards, then ambush them with 40 men. But, Paul’s nephew heard of the plan and warned the Romans, who took Paul out under very heavy guard the night before the planned ambush, to Caesaria. There his case was to be heard by the Roman governor Felix.

Well, Felix, along with his Jewish wife Drusilla, heard Paul’s story. And heard it. And heard it some more. In fact, Felix let Paul languish in prison for more than 2 years. But then, he had a reason:

 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.

When Felix was replaced by the new guy Festus, the same old group of Jews tried immediately to trick him into bringing Paul to Jerusalem so they could carry out their ambush plan. These guys must have been really skinny by now, don’t you think? Paul’s dual citizenship again saved him from that by his right to appeal to Caesar, which meant that he would be taken to Rome for trial. But, the Jewish King Agrippa and his wife Bernice then came to pay their respects to the new governor.

They talked about Paul, and Agrippa said that he would like to hear Paul’s defense of the charges concerning the Jews himself. The next day He was given the opportunity, and we see the account of one of the most famous trials in history. We’ll look at that tomorrow as well.

For today, there are 2 things that really jump out at me from what we’ve read. The first is how little people change. Especially in this election year, we are inundated with politics and politicians who seem to have no limits either, we read of a man 2000 years ago who let an innocent man sit in prison for more than 2 years because he was waiting for him to offer a bribe. The truth is that if he had but really listened even once, he would have realized that what Paul was trying to give him was more precious than gold.

The second thing that strikes me is the seemingly boundless hatred – the people that have given up lives and left their families, probably jobs, to follow Paul all over the known world just to harass him and, if possible, kill him. And for what? Believing differently than they do? Remember – this is going on for years – and they’re still seething! Who has that kind of energy? I get tired just thinking about it.

But it also breaks my heart that Someone has allowed Satan to have so much control over them that he can use them in that way. Make no mistake – he does and he will. When he’s used you up, he’ll toss you away like yesterday’s trash and find someone else.

Thank God that His boundless love can pick us up and redeem us – even when Satan thinks he has taken all there is to take. God always leaves a remnant – remember? Therein lies our hope. That’s our prayer for today. A prayer of gratitude and hope, for the remnant within us, and in the world around us.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 405

02/10/16 – 405

Sorry about missing yesterday, sometimes circumstances get the better of us.

We left Paul on Monday heading back to Jerusalem in spite of many warnings from the Holy Spirit that it would bring him trouble and pain. We were last exploring Acts 21:10-15, which said this:

“After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'”

12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

15 After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem.” 

I think we need to linger here a bit longer, simply because there is so much more we can learn from – need to learn from – Paul’s example of obedience. Not only do we need to learn it, but we need to incorporate it into our own lives. The simple story of Paul’s life is that he was an enemy of Jesus and His followers, met Jesus in a very powerful and personal way, then became as strong an ally as He ever was an enemy. He had an overarching commission from Christ to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, yet it seems at every step of the way he also had warnings like the one above; ‘if you go there you’ll be beaten, if you go here you’ll be arrested’, and so on.

I think that for many of us, the most recent message would have trumped the overall call. In other words, we are all called by the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) to make disciples, right? Yet often people have told me that they did not attend a certain church, take a certain job, get involved in a particular group or ministry that they felt God calling them to because they felt it would make them uncomfortable, or inconvenience them or they may have to face a fear or some such.

I guess the point is that the Holy Spirit giving you a heads-up about something like that is not a free ticket out. It’s part of your preparation for the job He’s called you to. Instead of giving up, we should thank Him and ready ourselves. Believe it or not, God rarely calls people to the place in which they are perfectly comfortable. Sometimes what He asks us to do is downright dangerous or painful. But if He asks us to do it, we know 3 things.

  1. It’s important.
  2. We are the best person for the job.
  3. He will equip, enable and empower us to do it.

Does that mean we won’t make mistakes, or mess things up the first time? Or the second? Or third? No. But it does mean that God will keep on working with us until the work is done. Paul told us this here:

Phil 1:6 he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Perseverance is just one of the lessons we learn from Paul. We live in a culture that tells us that our comfort is #1. But really, it’s not. What if Paul had taken that attitude? That ‘light to the Gentiles’ would have fizzled out pretty quickly. What if Jesus had taken that attitude? He could have made a much better living as a carpenter than as a preacher. Union scale and all that.

Let’s pray that prayer of examination again today. Ask the Spirit to take a deep look. Tell us where we’ve sidestepped because of fear or just not wanting to leave our comfort zone. Then the hard part – ask Him if it’s not too late to ask forgiveness, and say ‘yes’.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 404

02/08/16 – 404

Saturday we read that Paul had left Ephesus for Jerusalem on what was to be his third and last missionary journey. He had been warned (as usual) by the Holy Spirit that there would be trouble. As usual, he was obedient and went anyway. As usual, the Spirit was right. This time would end up making the others look only like practice runs.

Paul never did say he wasn’t warned. In fact, in Acts 21 Luke gives us such a striking account of Paul’s trip home that by the end of the chapter you just want to yell at him “Paul! Don’t go! What are you thinkin’!!??”

In Acts 21:4-5 their ship had stopped at Tyre. The text says ‘Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem’.

Then in verses 10-14 they had reached Caesaria. The Word says ‘After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'”

12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

After all these years, Paul was still hated in Jerusalem by a number of Jews. Remember, he was a former Pharisee and Zealot. In contemporary terms, think ‘extremist’. Now he was the Peyton Manning of the other team! (Sorry, couldn’t pass up just one Super Bowl reference). We’ve seen occasions where Islamic extremists have converted to Christianity – rarely does it happen publicly for fear of the very lives of the person and their loved ones. It was a similar situation for Paul.

There’s a great lesson there in itself, about being careful who you ally yourself with, who you become involved with. There’s a kind of person/group that, once they have you, don’t let go easily. Come to think of it, that’s one of the big differences between Christ and Satan. Christ gives you freedom to choose whether to stay with Him or not. Satan? Once he has you – you’re his slave. And like any other slave owner, he doesn’t let go easily.

Although we don’t have names, the Bible tells us that some Jews “from Asia” came to Jerusalem and once again, stirred up the people against Paul. They had prepared the way, spreading the rumors that Paul was teaching the Gentiles to reject the Mosaic laws. Paul had been seen in the city with a Greek believer from Ephesus, and that was enough to provide fodder for a rumor that he had defiled the temple by bringing the Gentile into it.

While Paul was spending a week going through Jewish purification rituals to demonstrate his respect for Jewish law and custom, these people were just using the time to get the city all worked up against him – and they did it quite successfully! Then again, they had years of practice!

This is one of those where I wish I could spend weeks right in this passage, looking at it from all angles. There are so many correlations to our society, and at every level. We see it almost daily now on the news. Hourly or more on social media. Felons shot in the act of committing their crimes become instant heroes because someone starts a rumor – and millions believe it. A politician tells a lie – and millions believe it because that person represents their pet cause. On and on.

Governments topple, churches split, ministries crumble, and marriages end because someone thought that someone might have been doing something wrong. People seem so ready to believe the dirt, and then so unwilling to actually look at the facts, that those who know how to use rumor have one of the most powerful weapons in the world at their disposal – and the safety is always off.

The problem is that in this spiritual war that we are fighting, we have certain restrictions placed on us as Christians, comparable to those placed on US troops in the Middle East or Viet Nam. We have good and powerful weaponry. But we do not use – will not use – the ‘dirty fighting’ kind of tricks that our enemies are known for. IEDs (homemade bombs) which just as easily kill children as soldiers. We don’t place booby traps like the Viet Cong, for instance, who were famous for the unusual cruelty of their inventions. Why? Because if we used those tactics, we become like our enemy, and we have already lost.

As Christians, if we turn away from the ways of Jesus, and use deception, rumors, lies and the like to battle Satan (the great deceiver), how have we overcome that evil? We haven’t. We have just become a part of it. It’s a confusing way to fight. Thank God we have a great leader.

Revelation 19:11 Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war.

Let’s pray today that we may continue to ‘fight the good fight’ with honor and righteousness. That way, we win the war even if we lose a battle or two.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 402

02/06/16 – 402

After Paul’s miraculous release from jail in Macedonia, he and his followers returned to Thessalonica, where they were met yet again with the Jews who seem to have made it their life’s work to stir up hatred against Paul and the Christians. They eventually made their way to Athens, home of the great thinkers and philosophers of the world – at least this is what the Greeks considered themselves to be. The best and brightest liked to hang out and debate at a place called the Areopagus. Of course, that’s where Paul headed. He had noticed that there was a temple or statue everywhere you turned, even one that had an inscription “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD”. Paul made sure that this God was no longer unknown by the time he left that day.

Paul later went on a third missionary journey, during which he spent more than 2 years in Ephesus until once again he felt the Holy Spirit calling him back to Jerusalem. But even as God was calling him home, it didn’t promise to be a happy homecoming.

Acts 20:22-24 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

Notice that he’s not just talking about Jerusalem. Paul is saying – truthfully – that everywhere he goes he faces prison and hardships for doing nothing more than preaching the gospel – just as Jesus called him to do. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have been able to stand up to that kind of test. How about you?

We seem to have this idea that if we follow Christ, everything will be rosy. We shouldn’t have hardships, money troubles, or serious illness. People shouldn’t be able to take advantage of us. Yet nowhere in scripture does He promise or even hint at that. His promise is that He will provide for our needs, and that we will reap a reward not here on earth, but in the life to come. And the truth is – that’s the one that really matters.

I don’t know why we think that becoming Christians should make us immune from hardship and pain. After all, it didn’t even work that way for Jesus Himself. What it does mean is that when we have those trials, we will never, ever again have to go through them alone. Spiritually, the Holy Spirit will always be there for us. Physically, the body of Christ – fellow believers – will always be there for us. We have only to allow them into our lives. It’s like that old standard picture of Jesus standing by a door in a garden. The verse is usually Revelation 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.

If you look at the door, you’ll see that there is no doorknob on the outside. That means that someone on the inside must open it. That’s how it is with the Holy Spirit – or other Christians, for that matter. You can let them into your life, or not.

You don’t get to choose whether you’ll have trouble – you will. You do get to choose whether to go through it alone – or as a part of the covenantal body of Christ. Why not make today’s prayer a prayer of renewed welcome for the Holy Spirit, and the rest of the Body?

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 401

02/05/16 – 401

You could call it coincidence. You could say it was God’s perfect timing. Yesterday evening my wife and I were watching television, and a new show came on. It was called ‘Hollywood Medium’, about a 19 year old man who supposedly is in contact with the dead. He does readings for various celebrities and tells them things that, of course, no one could have known. They are all deeply moved, many to tears, thanking him and God for giving him this wonderful gift.

Yesterday we read that Paul and Barnabus were called to Macedonia (modern-day Spain). There they encountered a similar situation. The difference was that they immediately recognized that this was definitely not a gift from the Lord.

Acts 16:16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

This didn’t go over very well with the girl’s owners. Paul had just killed their cash cow! They took him before a judge, who ordered Paul and Silas stripped and publicly beaten. 

Verse 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

But here, at the point where many of us would have given up, Paul and Silas stayed faithful. Instead of despairing, they turned to prayer and worship. And once again – God showed up!

Verse 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household.”

Understand, if they had run, the jailer would have been killed for allowing the escape. But they stayed, saving his life. The result was that he accepted Christ, and his entire household was baptized that night. In the morning, when the judges learned what had happened, they said that they could leave. But Paul demanded that since they had been publicly beaten and humiliated, the magistrates must come and publicly escort them out – and they did so.

I don’t have time or space here to list all the warnings in scripture against the use of mediums and attempts to communicate with the dead and so forth, but suffice it to say that any such activity is at best a fraud, at worst demonic. In no case is it a ‘gift from God’. Remember, God will never do anything that conflicts with his written Word.

As for the rest of this chapter of Paul’s story, I’m not quite sure what words to use to describe his actions. Brash? Brave? Bold? Ill-advised? I think that he was able to do what he did the way he did it only because of his allowing the Holy Spirit to have complete control. Where else would that kind of strength and courage come from?

Let’s just pray today for the gift of discernment as the culture seeks to mislead us daily, and for the filling of the Spirit to bring us through whatever trials may come our way.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 400

02/04/16 – 400

Paul’s first missionary journey lasted another 14 years or so before he finally returned to Jerusalem. There he went before a council of Jewish leaders and told them the gospel he had been preaching to the gentiles. He notes in Galatians 2:2 that he did this privately because some people had infiltrated the ranks of the Christian believers. While there he had a rather famous debate with Peter regarding whether gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. Just so you know, Peter said they did, Paul said they did not. Paul won, to the great relief of many gentile men.

The disciple Timothy joined him there, and they embarked on Paul’s 2nd missionary journey to Macedonia, in response to a vision that Paul had received from God. Luke described it in Acts 16:

Acts 16:9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Isn’t it nice when God speaks to us that clearly, that we are so sure of His voice and message that we can – without hesitation – pick up stakes and start walking. (In case you were curious, by the way, Macedonia is 2,969 miles from Jerusalem. Quite a walk!) What? You say you aren’t always that sure of the voice and/or the message?

My response then, would be to ask you 2 questions. First, why do you suppose that is? Is it that you’re really unsure, or that you really don’t like what He’s saying? Is it that you’re unsure because you communicate with Him so infrequently that His voice simply isn’t familiar to you? Think about it. When your phone rings and you answer, whose voice do you instantly recognize? It’s the one you hear most often. The one you hear rarely or not at all? You need to ask some questions to confirm that caller’s identity.

The second question is – do you want to be sure? I’m not asking to be snarky. Believe it or not, I know people who have told me straight out that they believe if they don’t know, they won’t be judged for failure to carry out God’s plan. I’m sorry, but I don’t think it works that way. You are judged based on your ability to understand and opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Refusal to hear it doesn’t make you innocent any more than refusing to read the Rules of the Road book gives you immunity from traffic tickets.

If there’s one over-arching lesson we can learn from Paul, it’s that he was fearless in following the Lord’s commands. The caveat is that if you are to be fearless, you have to be pretty sure of those commands. So, how can you be so sure?

  1. Constant communication with Him (Prayer)
  2. Know Him by knowing His Word. He will never tell you to do something that conflicts with His written Word.
  3. Know His followers. Ask others who have a close relationship with Him to pray with you for affirmation if you aren’t sure of something. God won’t play games. If it’s His will, and you all are truly seeking His will, He’ll let you know.
  4. Start walking. Even if you aren’t sure of the specifics, you can start working in the general direction. For example, you are feeling a possible call to missions, but aren’t sure where. Start working in home missions, or supporting mission programs, or go on a mission trip.
  5. Watch for His feedback. If you’re on track, God will encourage you, and Satan will try to stop you. Learn to discern who is doing what.

Let’s make that our prayer for today – that God would speak to us so clearly and so often that we would always be able to recognize His voice and obey without hesitation, and without fear.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 399

02/03/04 – 399

Paul, Barnabus and Mark had embarked on what we now know as Paul’s 1st missionary journey. There’s no doubt that they were good at what they were doing. I think we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that being an effective disciple/worker for Christ means that when we pass through a place, we leave a trail of soft music, blooming flowers, butterflies and love in our wake.

The reality is that Jesus Himself didn’t have that effect on everyone. Some people absolutely find that kind of inner peace and joy once they meet Him. Others hate Him with a passion, and will do anything they can to destroy His church and harm those who follow Him. The one thing you can rely on is that once Jesus passes through, things are not the same!

Remember that Paul and Barnabus were not acting on their own. They were simply allowing the Holy Spirit to work through them – and the results were powerful. We read what happened in Antioch. They moved on to Cypress, then to a place called Iconia. By now their enemies had joined forces. Both the Jews who refused to accept Christ and Gentile unbelievers got together and plotted to incite the people against them – basically to have them stoned to death.

They found out about the plot, and of course moved on once more to a place called Lystra, where they stayed for quite a while. They found a man who had been crippled since birth, and as Paul was preaching, the man was healed. The crowd, however, must not have been listening quite as well as the man, because they began to worship Paul and Barnabus, thinking that they were their pagan gods come as humans.

Acts 14:8 In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.

19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.

From there they kept on moving, planting churches and making disciples wherever they went. Funny, though, that no matter where they went, there were people working against them. I’ve never quite been able to figure out why. They were preaching the true gospel. They weren’t preaching hatred, or greed, or power. They did nothing but good for anyone in need and who would accept it. Yet they were hated by so many. Then again, so was Jesus Himself.

We are in a renewed season of hatred toward Christians today, it seems. We are the only group that doesn’t have the right of conscience, the only group that doesn’t have the right to protect and practice our own faith in many ways. We can be ridiculed publicly, openly. There is an ongoing propaganda campaign against us. So what do we do? Keep praying, trust in God, and keep making disciples – just like Paul did. Pray especially for every missionary out there today – at home and abroad.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 398

Saul and Barnabus brought the donations from the Christians in Antioch back to Jerusalem. After spending a little time there, They picked up a helper named John Mark and returned to Antioch. This is the man who would later write the first of the four gospels, the Book of Mark. But for now he was more or less the new guy.

The church in Antioch was becoming fairly well established, and seemed to have good leaders picking up the ball, so the 3 men went on the Cypress. There Saul began to preach in the synagogue, and although he did get some positive results, let’s just say it could have been better. It was when they got ready to preach to the Gentiles that things really got ugly.

The Jews who had brushed them off the day before were jealous of the crowd that was gathering. They responded by inciting people to harass and persecute the Christians, I’ll bet that had to make Paul shake his head a couple of times!

Acts 13:46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us:

“‘I have made you[f] a light for the Gentiles,
    that you[g] may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’[h]

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

You might have noticed that somewhere along the way Saul has become Paul. A lot of people mistakenly assume that this was a name change initiated by God, like when Abram’s name was changed to Abraham. The truth is that this is simply the result of Paul’s dual ethnicity. Living in a Jewish society as an upper class Jew, he used the Jewish form of his name – Saul. Now that he was living as a missionary in the Gentile world, it was only natural that he use the form that stemmed from his Roman father – Paul. This was actually a pretty common practice at the time.

I think the important lesson for us today is found in verse 51. We see the ritual of ‘shaking off’ a number of times in scripture. Jesus told His disciples to do this if a townspeople rejected them. Nehemiah shook out his robes in a similar way. The point is this – as much as God gives all of us many chances to accept Him, there does come a time when He stops.

Jesus goes out and seeks the lost, He invites the unwanted and the outcast. But He doesn’t chase anyone. If you want to walk away, you can.  I think there’s a reason for that. Satan could keep every would-be evangelist busy for life just trying to get one person each to accept Christ, when the reality is they have no intention of ever doing so. The same time energy and resources could be better spent reaching people who will respond.

I know it sounds harsh, That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. It just means, more than ever, we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to represent Jesus in the best , most fruitful way possible. Maybe that’s our prayer for today, don’t you think?



Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 397

Well, we’re back after another wonderful Sabbath. I hope you all had a great worship yesterday. If you recall, Saturday we were talking about the trust issues people were having regarding Saul’s conversion. Even the other apostles in Jerusalem were steering clear of him. In the meantime, he had started an interesting chain of events.

Because of the persecution of Saul and others, Jesus’ followers had scattered to the surrounding countries. s they traveled, so did the good news about Christ – and not only to the Jews!

Acts 11:19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews.20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

This was a very big deal. Up until then, the Jews had believed that only they had a chance for salvation. They only way anyone else could have it would be to fully convert to Judaism – that means dietary laws, circumcision, the works. But at the same time, God gave the Apostle Peter a vision and sent him to a group of gentiles to  preach. This is sometimes called the ‘second Pentecost’, because the gentiles were given the gift of the Holy Spirit just like the Jews in the Upper Room had been on the day of Pentecost.

Finally accepting that non-Jews were to be included in Jesus’ plan of salvation, a man named Barnabas was then sent to Antioch to preach to the Greeks there. After a while he went to Tarsus, found Saul and brought him back to Antioch. There they preached quite successfully, and established at least one church there.  An interesting side note about that:

Acts 11:25 So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

About that time a prophet came up from Jerusalem and predicted a great famine was coming throughout the Roman world – which would include Israel. The Christians in Antioch wanted to help, so they raised as much money as they could and asked Saul and Barnabas to take it to the apostles in Jerusalem to help the Christians there. Apparently they had learned to trust Saul.

It’s funny how we hold on to some things. Looking at the big picture, it looks as though Saul was being accepted as genuine by the church – as long as he stayed away, kept his distance. Kins of like “We don’t mind you preaching’, but how about you just preach to those fellas over there?’

On the other hand, we can also see how God used this to work HIs plan. Remember what He told Ananias after Saul was struck blind on the Damascus road? Acts 9:15 “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles”

So what does all this mean to us – other than a history lesson? One thing – a BIG thing – is that we are included in Jesus’ plan of salvation precisely because of attitudes like the ones held then toward the Gentiles. We see the same thing often in the gospels, when the disciples question Jesus for even speaking to Samaritans and Romans.

Here’s the bottom line. No one on earth gets to choose who is ‘good enough’ to receive God’s grace. Not you, not me, not the person in the back pew who’s been sitting there for the last 50 years. That’s up to God and God alone. It’s up to us to go into ALL the world and preach the good news about Jesus. Not so hard to understand now, is it?

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 395

01/30/16 – 395

One thing we know for sure is that even though God can see the heart, other people have a harder time. Saul had made quite a name for himself persecuting Jesus’ followers, and many of them simply weren’t buying the story of his conversion. After all, what better way to get into the ranks and find more and more victims? Then too, in these early days of the church, Christianity was still considered a sect of Judaism, not a separate religion. This meant that many Jews were suspicious of him also. Still, we have to give him credit for chutzpah.

After only a few days with some of Jesus’ followers in Damascus, he began to go into the synagogues and preach that Jesus was the Son of God! Scripture tells us that he not only preached it, but “baffled” them by proving it! After a while, though, some of the Jews hatched a plot to murder him as he passed through the city gates.

Apparently Saul had made some friends as he found out about the plot, and they helped him escape from Damascus by lowering him in a basket from a window in the city wall. From there he went to Jerusalem, but didn’t exactly get a warm welcome there either.

Acts 9:26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

I think we all have problems at times, on both sides of the trust issue. We often don’t know who to trust – especially obvious right now in an election year – and I think most of us have been in a position where people have failed to trust in us, whether or not we’ve done anything to cause that mistrust.

Like I said, God sees the heart, we don’t. To confuse us even more, we are inundated with bad news stories daily, it seems, of good people going bad – especially Christian leaders. The media seems to love nothing more than to sink their teeth into a story about a well-known evangelist getting caught with a prostitute or embezzling money from his church.

I want to be clear. I am NOT saying that anyone should be tried in the media. However, those who vie for such positions of leadership should absolutely be held to a higher standard than the general public. This is because people rely on the likes of us to teach them, to the best of our ability, how the Word of God says we ought to believe and to live. We don’t teach only when we stand in the pulpit or write articles, devotions or books. We teach by example, by the way we live. In fact, it is that example that can have the greatest impact on many people – much more than a sermon ever would.

There are many reasons that people mistrust one another, even people that have never met. We live in a world where it seems someone is always out to take advantage or deceive us for a number of reasons – usually money, or power, or fame. It takes a conscious act of the will to give a stranger the benefit of the doubt, to trust someone you’ve never met. How can we make these decisions?

The best advice I can give you is to see others through the eyes of Christ as best you can. If in doubt, pray. Give them the chances that God gave you. When it comes to having others trust you, some never will. Do the best you can. Be honest in every way, and live your faith. Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk.

Pray that others would see the light of Jesus shining through you, and know that you are trustworthy also. Pray for the guidance of the Spirit when it comes to placing your well-being in the hands of others.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 394

01/29/16 – 394

I think we can safely say that Saul the Pharisee had just experienced one of those truly life-changing events. He has been devoting his life to ridding the land of the followers of the person he thought was a false God, a man impersonating the true Messiah. His conversion was no long process. It was like getting hit with the proverbial ton of bricks, and there was no room left for doubt. Even his sight was taken from him, which I’m pretty sure had to have him wondering whether or not that condition would be permanent.

He had other worries too. Being newly blind, having everything he thought he knew turned upside down, and now in a strange place, he was pretty much helpless and vulnerable. As a zealous leader, he had some pretty zealous followers – many of whom were not happy! At the same time there were those that he had come to arrest and/or kill, who heard about what had happened and now saw a chance to rid themselves of someone who had been a BIG problem for them. But God was still there, and still in control.

Acts 9:10-17a In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord-Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here — has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

I can see why Ananias was hesitant to go to Saul. Whether it was out of fear, or just that he didn’t want to help his enemy, either would be an understandable human emotion. It’s to his great credit that he was obedient to God’s voice – and what a vivid word picture we were rewarded with as “something like scales” fell from Saul’s eyes and his sight was restored!

We’ve seen many times how often God asked us to do things that we don’t really want to do. Some of the most difficult are those things that we are afraid of, but I think that maybe even harder are those things that He asks us to do for the benefit of our enemies! Maybe He has asked you to share something with a competitor in a sport, or in the business world. Maybe He has prompted you to help someone who has bullied you or taken advantage of you in some way. Those things are hard, man!

Go ahead and think about how hard it is, then think about these words, modeled for us by Jesus Himself ,. . . “Father, forgive them…”. I think a good prayer for today would be that the Holy Spirit would work in us so that we too could become the kind of people that could not only forgive, but even help those who have done us harm.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 393

01/28/16 – 393

Now even as Saul and others like him were chasing after Christians wherever they could, their persecution had an effect they hadn’t counted on. As the Christians were scattered, the church of Christ was spread far and wide! In a time 2000 years before any kind of mass media, this persecution was probably the most effective way to spread the Good News about Jesus.

Remember how much the Jews always hated the Samaritans? Listen to this:

Acts 8:14-17 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

And this:

Acts 8:25 When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

And finally:

Acts 8:40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.


But what was Saul doing while all this was going on? Doubling his efforts to destroy the church from the outside in…

Acts 9:1-2 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘it would take an act of God to stop him’? Well, that’s exactly what was needed – and that’s exactly what Saul got! The man who had never met Jesus in the flesh was about to meet him soul to soul.

Verse 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

I know it’s true that your first meeting with Jesus can pack a wallop, but people usually aren’t struck blind! Here’s a critically important detail, though. Verse 7 “The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone”. How many times do people argue that Jesus was just a fairy tale, a bunch of ridiculous claims made by His followers for their own reasons (whatever they may have been), and that none could be proven.

Yet how can you prove that something actually happened? Physical evidence is one way, credible witnesses another. The truth is, Jesus didn’t work in secret. This is just one case in which He made sure there were plenty of witnesses – and none who would have been working for His cause either. Remember, they were traveling with Saul.

It’s so important to know what you believe. It’s even more important to know why you believe it. Let’s make our prayer today that God would always give us enough to know – to have a solid foundation for our faith.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grown-ups – 392

01/27/16 – 392

Welcome back to the New Testament! Today we begin a new journey together. This is another of those stories that, if we let ourselves run with it, could easily take months to finish. It is the story of the Apostle Paul, the same one who wrote about half of the books of the New Testament. His teachings are a huge part of the foundation of the Christian church. This is remarkable for a few reasons. One, he was not one of the original 12 disciples were called by Jesus. In fact, Paul didn’t come into the picture until later, after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.

His first appearance in the Bible isn’t exactly a pretty one either. You see, he wasn’t known as Paul yet. His name at the time was Saul (like our old buddy from the last story) and the first time we meet him is at the killing of the first Christian martyr, the disciple Stephen.

Acts 7:57-8:1a 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul approved of their killing him.

We don’t know too much about his history before this, but then, this alone speaks volumes. We do know that he was educated as a Pharisee, as was his father. The Pharisees were members of a Jewish sect who were considered the religious elite, better than pretty much everybody else – all you had to do was ask them! If his father was a Jew his mother must have been Roman, giving him dual citizenship. We know he had a sister, who had a son, but we don’t know any of their names.

We also know that he was one busy guy! He wasn’t the only person persecuting Christians at the time, but he was certainly one of the most zealous leaders.

Acts 8:1b-3 On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

It occurs to me that a lot of the main characters in our stories have started out as pretty good, God=fearing people, like Solomon, and gone downhill from there. We haven’t had too many that start out as Satan’s quarterback, then ended up writing a good chunk of the Bible! In one way though, it makes perfect sense that God would choose this kind of man. Saul may have been on the wrong side, but he surely gave his all for what he believed in. Let’s face it, we know that one of the biggest problems of the church has always been what we know as ‘lukewarm’ Christianity. No matter what you might say about Saul/Paul, no one could accuse him of that – he was sizzlin’!

I’m sure that’s just the first of many things we’ll learn from his story. His epistles (letters) to the churches he planted are favorite subjects of bible studies. I can’t wait to see what we discover as we get to know the man behind the pen. Let’s pray today that God would give us brand new insight and discoveries as we study his life, ones that will open up the scriptures he penned in completely new and glorious ways!