Acts 26: Wanting All to Know Christ

In Acts 26, Paul meets with King Agrippa as part of his long trial before the Roman government. He tells Agrippa of all that he had his experienced since his transformation from a persecutor of the church to its most prominent advocate.

Paul did such a great job telling of his story and the fruits of his ministry that Agrippa was left with only one reaction. That was to ask if Paul wanted him to join him in faith. Paul’s response was quite telling and, I believe, informative for us today. He said, essentially, that he wanted to join him except for his chains.

It should be the desire of every Christian to inspire others to join us in our faith. My fear is that, too often, we run from the very thing we seek to proclaim. We hesitate to proclaim fearing what someone might say in response.

But, what if we truly lived like Paul? What if we truly walked and desired for all people to join us in faith? Our mission is to go make disciples and to influence the world by such. Could you imagine how different our world would be if we truly took this mission seriously?

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Acts 24: Confidence Through Adversity

Paul’s imprisonment continues. There is no end in sight. In Acts 24, Paul is to defend himself during a meeting with the governor Felix.

He never relents. In fact, Paul confidently accounts for his ministry and what took place in Jerusalem. He maintained the truth that was he was doing was in line with the witness of God from all time. In fact, he says, the God he worshiped is the same god that those who accused him worshiped.

Paul was confident even though he face deep adversity. Why? How could he do such a confident defense even though there was trouble all around him?

It was because Paul never lost sight of the fact that God was with him. He knew that God was in the middle of his adversity and would walk with him through it all. It didn’t mean that Paul would be free from trials or testing, but merely that God would be his strength, guide, and shield through the entire trial.

The same is true for us. Whenever we face adversities in our life, no matter what they are, we can go through them with confidence because God is with us. We are never alone. God walks with us. God guides us. God strengthens us for the road ahead, so that we may proclaim boldly the love of Christ that is available for all.

No matter what we face in life, no matter what adversity is in front of us, we can go through it with confidence because God is there. That is a hope we can all cling to this morning.

Acts 21-23: Stay Focused on the Mission

In Acts 21-23, Luke begins to tell of Paul’s long imprisonment and trial. He had gone to Jerusalem, as he had desired, and was arrested in the Temple courts. This began a string of twists and turns that would take Paul to Rome, which was his desired destination in his missional work.

Paul was told by others of the fate that awaited him in Jerusalem. It never deterred him. He stayed focused on the path that was before him, which was to go to Jerusalem to care for the people there and then head to Rome. Even though Paul knew that it likely meant he would be arrested he never gave up the mission.

That is something important for us. There will be moments that following Jesus will be difficult. Times in which that it will be overwhelming and costly to do what Jesus seeks and desires for us to do. In those moments, though, Paul’s ministry serves as a comforting reminder that we must stay focused on the mission God has for us.

To do this we must remain connected to God and seek the Lord’s guidance in our lives. None of us can do the work God has called us to on our own. We need the Lord’s presence and guidance, just like Paul needed the Lord to sustain and protect him in Jerusalem and throughout his imprisonment.

How can you stay focus on the mission God has for you today? With all the stresses and distractions of life, what would it mean for you to stay committed to what God has for you today, tomorrow, and through all time?

We Are Called

Eleven years.

Eleven years. That is how long I worked, in some way, in the media profession. I started when I was 16 as a part-time sports reporter for the newspaper in Beckley, W.Va. I would later work as a writer for newspapers or policy organizations in Morgantown, W.Va., Clarksburg, W.Va., Shelby, N.C., and Chapel Hill, N.C. I was able to do a lot in my journalism career. I interviewed a governor after he admitted to an affair, was yelled at by a number of coaches, and had NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick leave an interview with me and a few other reporters. It wasn’t my fault.

Though I have many great memories from my journalism career what often defined my career was a feeling that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. I wasn’t fulfilled deep in the core of my being. Sure, I wrote well and could cover any topic from high school wrestling to state budget negotiations with ease, but it wasn’t me. This was a frustrating realization for someone who from a young age wanted to do nothing but work as a writer.

It was this realization, along with several things that were going on in my life at the time, that led me to finally ask God, “What am I called to do?” The answer to this question led me to leave my comfortable life in North Carolina to take on the challenge that God has set before me in Kentucky. The realization was that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to. I was called to do something else with my life. This calling to be a pastor was one that I had run from, perhaps unknowingly, for a long time.

The nature of calling is central to Christian discipleship. All of us have been called by God in one way or another. At its most basic element, a calling is essentially how we are to live in response to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Author Gordon T. Smith speaks of each of us having three specific callings. The first is to love God. We are called to love God in response to the love God has shown us. The second is our passions. We’ll talk more about this in a bit, but when we think of passions we are thinking about those things that God has gifted us to do or has broken our heart about. It is those things that stir our emotions. Finally, the third calling is how we live out the first two in our lives. Our third calling is about the ways we will love God and uses these gifts and passions each day.

None of us are exempt from being called by God in some way. We may not have recognized or known it, but, yet, God has called us for a specific purpose to fulfill a specific thing in the kingdom of God. With this, we can relate to the prophet Jeremiah. Our passage is a recounting of his calling by God to serving as a prophet. Jeremiah would go on to serve as a prophet who challenged the people in how they lived in response to God’s ways in the days and years before the Exile.

What this passage is, then, is Jeremiah looking back and remembering God’s call upon his life, a call that was often difficult and placed him with few supporters. This sense of call comforted him in those difficult times. Jeremiah’s remembrance of his calling says something to us today. What exactly calls us to look deeply within these words. We might even be willing to ask ourselves this question: What might God be calling me, us, and our church to today?

The remembrance looks back to Jeremiah’s youth, but even well before that. We are told that before Jeremiah was born that God created in him certain gifts and talents that would be useful in fulfilling God’s purposes. Think about the meaning of this statement. Before Jeremiah was born, God knew Jeremiah, loved him, and gave him gifts, skills, and talents, that would benefit the kingdom of God. The Lord also consecrated him, which mean that God had prepared him to do this specific task. God’s grace was with Jeremiah well before he knew who God was in forming him to being the person the Lord needed him to be.

All of us have had this experience. Before we were born, God formed in each of us various gifts, talents, and passions. Some of us are gifted with great abilities in financial stewardship. Some of us are gifted with passions for children and youth. Some of us are gifted with talents of writing, teaching, building, and so many other things. No matter what our talents are they come from God to be used in service to Christ and to all the world.

Our identity as followers of Christ is defined by this very truth. We are called to love God and serve Christ and others out of this love. God didn’t gift us so that we would become rich by the world’s standards, but so that we might become rich in the Lord’s love in sharing the Good News through our words, actions, and deeds to the world.

It is an overwhelming reality to think God loved us enough to create in us gifts and talents to be used within the kingdom. It was overwhelming for Jeremiah. As the call narrative goes on, Jeremiah tries to find every reason why God has the wrong person in mind. Jeremiah says that he doesn’t know what needs to be said. He also says that he is too young. Jeremiah’s objections are similar to those we read from Moses when he learns of God’s calling upon his life. Jeremiah did not feel capable of the massive responsibility God had entrusted him with.

We can relate to this. The desires God has for us are overwhelming, challenging, and difficult. It is not easy to follow what God asks of us. So, much like Jeremiah we come up with excuses why God is not really asking us to do the overwhelming, challenging, and difficult.  Do any of these excuses sound familiar? God, I can’t do what you are asking, because I am just too busy. God, I just don’t have the training to do what you ask. God, you have the wrong person.

These same excuses echo within the halls of our churches. God, we’re not big enough as a church to do the mission you have called us to. God, our budget is way too small to do what you desire. God, the community around us is just too difficult to reach, so you must be mistaken.
We all have made excuses to God. Here’s the thing: God does not want our excuses. Instead, the Lord desires a willing heart. With a willing heart, God can do so much in and through us to change the world. What might God do in us, in our church, in Latonia, in Covington, and throughout Northern Kentucky, if we let down our guard, let go of our excuses, and say, “Here I am Lord … send me.”

If we are willing, there is a promise within Jeremiah’s call statement for us. God will prepare us and guide the way. That is the message given to Jeremiah and us to not be fearful of what God asks of us. God tells Jeremiah to not be afraid and, even more, that he would protect him. God’s guidance would be with Jeremiah and us as we go out into the mission field to serve Christ and others. God goes with us in place we go and in every way we seek to use our gifts and talents. Yes, the mission is difficult, but with God’s presence with us we have nothing to fear.

Something else is comforting for Jeremiah and us in these words. Jeremiah recalls that God touched him and put the words in his mouth. God’s guidance never left him and he equipped Jeremiah for the mission to speak the difficult words to the people. What Jeremiah said was spoken to him first by God. The same is true of us. God speaks in us the things to say, the missions to undertake, and the people to love. God equips us to do the work of the church. We do not have to go to seminary to be in ministry. We do not have to know everything there is to know about church leadership. All that is needed is a desired to be used by God, a willingness to learn and grown, and a desire to go out and serve Christ by the way we love and serve others.

In your bulletin, this morning, you received a copy of our Lay Leadership survey for the coming year. It is a tool that will help us to pray and discern about our leadership needs for 2014 and beyond. Admittedly, it is easy to look at this process as a mere formality, to check the box, and fill in all the spaces and move on to something else. This would be easy to do, and, admittedly, something I have done in the past. What if we did something courageous, something unique, something challenging? What if we used this time to ask God what he might be calling us to do? What if instead of simply filling in the blanks, we asks God how we might enhance the ministry God seeks to do here at Trinity? What if we asked ourselves how we might help in making disciples of all people in the name of Jesus Christ?

There is something for each of us to do, out of our talents, to serve Christ, the church, and love others. All of us have a part to play in helping the church to be the living witness of Jesus Christ in Latonia, Covington, Northern Kentucky, and throughout the world.

God forms us. God calls us. God equips us. Yes, the work is challenging. Yes, the work is overwhelming. Yes, the work is costly. The work and the mission of serving Christ through the gifts God has given us is holy, powerful, and life changing.

God has given each of us gifts and talents to serve the mission. We have been formed for a purpose. What is your part? What has God been calling you to do that you’ve made excuse after excuse in order not to do? What is God calling Trinity to do in Latonia?

Truly God has called us. Where are we willing to do for the Lord in response?

Acts 20: How Do You Value Your Life?

Our devotion, today, will be short, but challenging. It comes from Acts 20:24, where Paul says these words to the elders in Ephesus:

But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace (NRSV).

Paul felt that nothing was more important, in his life, than his relationship with the Lord and the mission that came out of that relationship. His identity and value was determined by this relationship and mission. His relationship with the Lord was his identity and the mission was his focus.

So, often our identity is defined by the things of this world. How much money do you have? How big is your home? How secure if your 401(k)? What sport team do you root for? What Paul reminds us is that none of these things brings us to a sense of true inner peace. In fact, they all often leave us wanting for more – more stuff, more things, more of everything.

Some questions for you: What are your defined by? What or who defines your identity?

Acts 19:21-41: How Do We Respond When Faith Challenges Us

Our passage today, Acts 19:21-41, focuses on a disturbance in Ephesus. A group of silversmith were upset about Paul’s mission work in Ephesus and the fruits of that mission. The reason is that Paul’s work was starting to impact their finances.

The silversmiths were dependent upon the worship of Artemis, one of the gods of Ephesus at the time. They would build silver shrines to be used in worship. When Paul began to make disciples in Ephesus is meant fewer and fewer people would be available to buy these shrines. A smaller marketplace means less financial resources for the silversmiths.

So, what do they do? They caused a riot. They gathered together, organized, and created a great confusion within the city about who to truly worship. Because they felt threatened the silversmiths decided to respond by doing whatever they could to limit Paul’s influence and, thus, the church’s mission.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is a challenging message. It challenges us to our core and forces us to wrestle with our identities, pasts, and, even, livelihoods. Once we have heard the message of Jesus it demands of us a daily response focused upon how we will live with the revelation of the Good News that Christ is alive and Christ is love.

For the silversmiths, their response was to promote a panic and cause fear among the people. It prevented them from seeing the grace and truth that comes from the Lord. What about us? We might not respond in such drastic ways, but our response might be equally hindering our ability to grow closer to the Lord.

So, how have you responded to the Good News of Jesus Christ today? How will you live life in response to God’s love?

Big Box Stores Have Impacted Local Ministry

I love Wal-Mart.

I know it is not vogue to admit this. It is more acceptable to denounce Wal-Mart for its hiring practices, wages, or how it hinders small business development. These points are all valid and worthy of discussion.

However, I love Wal-Mart. Why? What other place can you purchase your weekly groceries, clothing for your children, golf balls for the weekend, visit the bank, get your tires rotated, and have lunch all in one trip? I can think of few similar places. The convenience that Wal-Mart offers is the reason for its financial success and market penetration.

As much as I love Wal-Mart, and other similar big box store retailers, I struggle with what they have done to the ministry of the local church. The one-size-fits-all approach to how we shop has impacted the mission of the local church. We expect the local church and its ministries to reflect the one-size-fits-all mentality of stores like Wal-Mart. We expect the local church to have everything and to be everything.

In all honesty, we expect the church to be Wal-Mart.

What we want is for the local church to offer every program, to meet every want, and to serve every purpose. Gone are the days, for many of us, where the church is defined by the mission of “making disciples of all people.” Instead, the church is defined more as an institution vying for your attention, commitment, and, yes, money. What we really believe is that the church should serve us instead of we serving the church’s mission.

In order to compete with the world, we have led our churches and ministries down the path of wanting to be everything to everyone without being committed to our core beliefs and vision. Of course, we also try to be everything in order to grow and increase our worship and church attendance. This is a destructive practice that makes the church look more like the world than like Christ.

It is a sad truth. This is beyond recognizing the church’s commercialization. It is a recognition of our active belief that unless the church does not offer everything then it is not being the true witness of Christ.

The church is not about programs. The church is about a mission.

Our mission must always be connected to the Great Commandment’s call to go out and make disciples of all people. This mission may mean that we have everything. It many mean that we do not look like anything that the world has ever seen before. Whatever we are and whatever we seek to be, we must be connected to our identity as the witnesses of Christ in our time.

We must never lose sight of our mission and core purpose. Ministry should not look like Wal-Mart. The church must not be in the business of doing everything. It must be about the important work of sharing the message of Christ and making disciples of all people. How we do this will look different in various contexts and culture, but it is a work that we must  focus on and be committed to doing.