Wednesday, September 29, 2010

real beauty; real strength

You might say that the essential quality that describes women is beauty and you might say that the essential quality that describes men is strength.  From our early days, little girls like to dress up and wear makeup and little boys like to be super heroes and flex their muscles.  It is just in our nature.  Peter helps us understand what real beauty and real strength look like:
1 Peter 3:3 (Wives) Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
1 Peter 3:7 Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.
Apparently real beauty and real strength are seen and measured by God, Himself.  A woman is to be beautiful invisibly with a heart that is gentle and a spirit that rests in the Lord.  This kind of beauty can even win an unbelieving husband to faith.  A man is to demonstrate strength by lifting his wife in honor and investing himself in understanding and care.  That kind of strength can forge marriages and families and lead to answered prayers.
It is in our nature to focus on beauty and strength, but it is our glory to lay our nature before the Lord, who finds beauty in the unseen and strength in unselfishness.
Rob Smith

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

healed by a wound

1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
By definition a wound is: an injury, usually involving division of tissue... due to external violence or some mechanical agency rather than disease.
Healed by a remarkable.  We think of wounds as the opposite of health...they are a loss of intentional harm done by people to other people.  In a sense, mankind has been "wounding" God since our time in Eden.  Isn't it remarkable that the greatest healing ever received came through the greatest wound ever endured?  Just as sin is the opposite of God's desire for the, nature of our lives, so a wound is the opposite of the health He intends.  The only perfect man would have to die so that all the imperfect men might live.  We were dead....we are now alive.  We have been living in the negative of the picture and become accustomed to it.  We need to see the negative reversed and this has been done by the most negative of actions.  It took a wound to make us whole.
Rob Smith

Monday, September 27, 2010

He is here

As I walked in the predawn morning, a gentle sprinkle of rain fell from the sky and off the tall trees looming overhead.  I wanted to feel close to God in those quiet minutes before the busy-ness of the new day and the new week swept in.  I wondered why it was so difficult to really feel His presence when I knew that my mind and my heart were easily fixed on other things.  I reflected on the problem we have had ever since Adam walked in his garden.  Since we are not totally immersed in Heaven and God's presence and reality are not directly before us, in the same manner as they will be in the eternal kingom, we are more easily "self contained" and self-centered.  There is a spiritual core within us, however, that knows God is real and God is here.  That spiritual core was awakened and moved to bow before our Lord when we realized His great love and our great need for Him.  Shafts of heavenly light broke into our self-centered minds when we realized that we needed to be rescued from ourselves and our wandering ways.  Jesus became our personal savior.  But we so easily forget Him... I considered that perhaps earth was God's great experiment.  He had formed Heaven and was surrounded with angels who worshiped and obeyed Him without question.  Perhaps He wanted to see if man would also choose to worship and obey Him, when His presence was not quite so obvious.  But then I remembered that God was here all the time and if I didn't sense His presence the problem was mine and not His.  I was comforted with this truth and immediately felt His embrace, once again.  Yes...He is here and we can know Him!
Deuteronomy 31:6 "Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you."
Rob Smith

Sunday, September 26, 2010

a heavenly inheritance

Heaven is the greater reality than this life because it is the ultimate destination for the ultimate timeframe (eternity).  We have trusted in Christ through faith and experienced delivery from sin's penalty and felt the very real presence of the Holy Spirit.  But we weren't set free to merely enjoy a higher quality of earthly life.  Indeed, we no longer see life the same way once we have found Christ as Savior and Lord.  We now know that Heaven is our inheritance.  Usually the prospect of a substantial inheritance is very appealing because we are very familiar with the benefits of money and property.  But we are neophytes when it comes to living for eternity and we are not nearly so familiar with its benefits.  We have come to measure prosperity as a relative measure of flourishing on earth, alone, where wealth is a convenient way to rank order the quality of life.  Peter refers to Heaven as an inheritance to motivate proper behavior.  In First Peter chapter 3, verse 7 he exhorts men to honor their wives and remember that they are "heirs together of the grace of life".  In verses 8 and 9 he reminds them that the bottom line of loving each other and showing kindness and restraint, even when others show hatred "knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing".  Peter ends chapter three with the illustration of Christ, Himself.  Jesus didn't experience His full reward on earth.  His work was completed in our midst on earth and He achieved the greatest of victories:
(verse 18) For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the SpiritBut the full reward of Jesus' work came when He came into heaven: (verse 22) Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.
Our eternal lives begin here on earth when we trust in the love and work of Christ on the Cross...but Heaven truly lies just ahead and the prospect of our inheritance of eternal life and the blessing of God ought to motivate "Heavenly living" that draws others, also, to seek this inheritance.
Rob Smith

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Stones on a mission

1 Peter 2:4-5 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you ...are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood...
God is shaping us individually through the trials and challenges of living for Him.  Every time we choose to please Him in preference to ourselves, He takes His bag of tools and works us so that we will ultimately fit perfectly into His spiritual house.  (It is fitting that Jesus trained as a builder in Heaven and with His earthly father).  We are called to difficult, challenging, rewarding and effective work so that the Master Builder, having pulled us from the earth as raw minerals would complete His work in us and through us.  Here is a list of proper attitudes and actions that Peter (the rock, himself) provided:
from verses 11-20:
  • Abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.
  • Live such good lives among the pagans that ... they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.
  • Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil;
  • Live as servants of God.
  • Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men
  • Show proper respect to everyone:
  • Love the brotherhood of believers,
  • Fear God,
  • Honor the King
  • Suffer for doing good and endure it.

You might say that we are rocks on a live in a refreshingly different way than other in the world...that others might also be called from the world and join us in the holy, Heavenly wall of precious stones.



Rob Smith

Friday, September 24, 2010

identities in Christ

From the book of First Peter we learn that, as believers in Christ, we have many identities.  In chapter two, alone, we are called "babes", "living stones", "a chosen generation", "aliens and pilgrims", and "sheep returned to the Shepherd".  Like newborn babes we need pure nourishment, like a mother's milk...and that food is the word of God.  Like living stones we are being shaped and placed in the walls of God's house and Christ is the cornerstone of that house.  As "a chosen generation" we have a special mission to proclaim His truth and to reflect His light.  As "aliens and pilgrims" we know that this is not our home and the ultimate pleasures of earth are nothing compared to the ultimate pleasures of Heaven...where we are headed.  Like "sheep returned to the Shepherd" we remember that we were lost and wandering but have been found and reclaimed by the Great Shepherd.  Of course we really have one identity in Christ...we are His.  Rather than having an identity crisis...torn between heaven and earth, we need to be 100% His because there are so many who have not yet discovered who they can be in Christ.
1 Peter 2:10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God, you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Rob Smith

Thursday, September 23, 2010

happily ever after

I remember that some of my favorite fairy tales, like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, ended with the phrase: "and they lived happily ever after."  The heroes of the stories had come through life-threatening trials and ultimately found true love and happiness.  The result was a 'forever' kind of love and the impression was that their trials were past.  As we read the first chapter of First Peter we see that Peter is writing to a people who are living a sort of paradox.  They have trusted in the Lord and have the certain knowledge that they have been redeemed from their sin.  They now know God, not as a distant king, but as a personal Father.  Peter says that they have been "born again" as new people entirely, and yet they are not experiencing a "happily ever after" kind of life yet.  He is writing to encourage them because, despite this great salvation and restoration to God, they are enduring great trials.  They have fled Jerusalem and all that is familiar because they are no longer accepted by other Jews who haven't come to faith in Christ as Messiah.  They have left the comforts of tradition, routine and social acceptance .  They have traded all this for a life resembling fugitives, living in foreign lands among unfamiliar people and uncomfortable lifestyles.  So Peter is writing to encourage them that their faith will ultimately lead to "happily ever after" but that God has purpose for them on the far side of faith and the near side of Heaven...while they still are alive in fhe flesh.  They must be uncomfortable now for at least two reasons: (1) to demonstrate what it looks like to live in the flesh while obeying, trusting and loving God at the personal level and (2) to demonstrate what it looks like to love each other fervently.  They are to be living pictures of what life looks like when God takes up residence in the human heart.  At the end of the chapter he quotes the prophet Isaiah to remind them that their lives on earth are temporary but that God's word will last forever.  He wants them to remember that their new lives sprang from the promise of God's word and although they are tested and tried, there truly is a "happily ever after" just ahead.
1 Peter 1:13  Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
(verses 8-9) Though you have not seen Him, you love HIm; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Rob Smith

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

more precious than gold

Gold has several qualities that have made it exceptionally valuable throughout history. It is attractive in colour and brightness, durable to the point of virtual indestructibility, highly malleable, and usually found in nature in a comparatively pure form. The history of gold is unequaled by that of any other metal because of its value in the minds of men from earliest times. (from the Encyclopedia Britannica)
1 Peter 1:7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
These days gold is getting a lot of press because it has reached unprecedented worth as an investment.  Right now an ounce of gold is worth just under $1,300!  Gold is a "refuge investment" that people move into when they are concerned about other investments.  It has a tangible and real worth and the emotional sense is that other investments may rise and fall but gold will always be there.  Of course, as the reference above cites, gold has many physical qualities incljuding physical attractiveness, durability and a resistance to impurities.  Perhaps those very qualities mirror the spiritual qualities that Peter ascribes to faith...attractive, pure, enduring.  We live in a world that can be seen and touched and so the things we tend to value highest can often be seen and touched.  But we have been "born again" to a world that transcends the visible...a world that is presently invisible and that cannot be seen and touched.  But this is a world that can certainly be experienced, even here.  If we think about it, even here the greatest things are the intangibles: love, compassion, purpose, hope, forgiveness.  Our faith is not a mineral mined from the earth.  It is a miracle from Heaven that was "mined" at great expense and now, amazingly, adorns our innermost person.  These are times when it is wise for people to take refuge, not in Gold, but in God and not by purchasing coins and jewelry but by receiving the precious faith, purchased for us outside the marketplace of Jerusalem on the Cross.
Rob Smith

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

living, imperishable, undefiled and reserved in Heaven for you!

1 Peter 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
The book of First Peter launches with one of the most glorious and hopeful passages imaginable.  It is addressed to people who have fled Jerusalem, and all that was familiar, to live as foreigners and strangers in other countries.  They distanced themselves from Jerusalem to escape persecution and death because they had trusted in the death and resurrection of Jesus and had exchanged social acceptance for an admission to Heaven.  Peter wants to encourage them as they struggle with their new full of change and challenge.  We, too, in our day have left many aspects of our personal Jerusalem's behind as we have also trusted in the work of the Savior.  We are no longer under the world system or the deceptive mastery of Satan.  Sometimes we are tempted to look back at our old Jerusalems just as Lot's wife looked back at Sodom because the familiar past is often more comfortable than the unknown future.  But consider the words of Peter...especially the adjectives he uses in the passage above: "great mercy", "living hope", an "imperishable, undefiled, unfading ,heavenly" inheritance.  And consider the action words: "caused us", "born again", "reserved in heaven", "protected by the power of God", "revealed in the last time".  Our fulfillment now comes from the flavor of hope more than the satisfactions of society or the savor of sensory delight.  But it is a real hope, a powerful hope, an eternal hope that only has its birth here on earth's crust because it is a Heavenly hope and Heaven is our sure destination.  But, most of all, it is a real and certain hope and can be relied on as surely as the sun has risen this morning.  I hope the risen Son has planted this hope in your heart!
Rob Smith

Monday, September 20, 2010

of lasting value

As I walked through the refreshing early September morning and reflected on the beauty of the wooded path and crystal sky above I considered the long term future and the distant past.  I pondered the things that would carry over from this life to the eternal dimension after I die and reasoned that those should be the things I focus on now.  But what are those things?  Then it occurred to me to thing back into the distant past of my life to consider the most lasting memories I have.  I  thought  that perhaps the same kinds of things that make a lasting memory might have lasting value in heaven.  The irony is that our lasting memories don't seem to come from the objects of our energy so much as the relationships that touch us.  Through school and sports and career we strive for accomplishment, make a mark and to stand out.  But what I remember most, thinking back, is standing next to my Dad as he cut wood on a table saw to build something (and the something isn't what I recall)...or I remember sitting next to my Grandpa as he drove his old truck that smelled of cigar smoke, and I knew I was loved.   I remember returning from a seven month Naval deployment to see my future wife...but I don't remember a lot about the seven months leading up to that event.  I remember being overwhelmed with love and kindness after having a serious accident and injury when struck by a car on my bicycle.  But I really don't remember the accident, itself, so much.  I remember picking up and swinging around three little girls who are now young women and my daughters and now I remember picking up and swinging around little grandchildren.  My memories may be a guide about the things of lasting value.  It seems that the relationships of love have overwhelmed the accomplishments of living.  Perhaps this is an indication of what we will carry over to Heaven.  Whatever I accomplish will fade almost as soon as it is done but the people I know along the way will last.  I know that the Lord cherishes relationships because He sent His Son to restore a relationship with us that had been broken.  And despite the majesty of God's creation and all He has fashioned... I think most about His love for me.  Our memories may be a good indication of the things that are of lasting value.
Psalm 78:38 But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity,
         And did not destroy them.
         Yes, many a time He turned His anger away,
         And did not stir up all His wrath;
 39 For He remembered that they were but flesh,
         A breath that passes away and does not come again.



Rob Smith

Saturday, September 18, 2010

tell me again

Tell me again of your love for me and I'll tell of mine for you,
Though I've heard it scores of times it seems, your love's forever new.
Yes I know you've bought me with your life; Your words fill me with light.
But tell me again for I struggle wrongs blot out your right.
Help me to stop and listen close, for close you always are,
Help me to see the obvious, you are near and never far.
Help me to live only for you, for you now live for me,
Sharpen my eye to see you now on the shores of eternity,
And tell me again of your love for me and I'll tell of mine for you,
Your love is constant while mine still grows.
Please keep my purpose true.
love to all,
Rob Smith

Thursday, September 16, 2010

the long trip

Acts 28:20 "For this reason therefore I have called for you, to see you and speak with you, because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain."
This is the final chapter of Acts.  Paul has survived shipwreck on the island of Malta.  He heals folks on that island and then makes his way to Sicily and then up the Italian coast to Rome.  It is encouraging to read how Christian believers heard of him coming and met him along the way.   The trip from Jerusalem to Rome appears to be at least 1500 miles in distance.  As has been Paul's custom, he starts by reaching out to the Jews in Rome.  After all, they are the ones who have been looking for the Messiah for generations.  They are the ones who need to know that the One they have been awaiting, whom the prophets foretold through many writings, has come.  They are the ones who should recognize Jesus.  Paul spends a full day, morning till evening reasoning with them from the Law of Moses and the Prophets.  Verse 24 recounts, "And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved."  It's interesting that even the unbelief was prophesied by Isaiah and quoted in verses 26-27 "Go to this people and say: Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand..."   We see Paul in a rented house in Rome receiving all who would come to see him and preaching the kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus as the book of Acts closes.  It seems fitting that we leave Paul in the midst of ministry.  His story wasn't yet finished and the Gospel is still being preached.  The book of Acts is still being written, in a sense, and many others have picked up the baton from Paul and risked life while sacrificing much to bring the good news of God's fulfilled love.  The Lord made the long trip from Heaven to reach us.  Paul made the long trip to Rome to reach others.  We, too, can make the long trip from our personal comfort zone to share the message all the world needs!
Rob Smith

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Acts 27:42-43 And the soldiers' plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim away and escape.  But the centurion, wanting to save Paul, kept them from their purpose...
Paul is placed on a ship to sail to Italy so he can face charges made against him before Caesar.  But before he can get there he must survive a difficult voyage on the sea.  It is clear that there are two purposes for this's purposes and God's purposes.  Man's purpose was to transport a high-value prisoner to Rome to satisfy Roman law.  God's purpose was to take the Gospel message to the Italian peninsula.  They run into something like a typhoon that rages for about two weeks straight and the little ship is blown all over the Adriatic Sea.  There are great forces pushing Paul and there are great forces seeking to destroy Paul.  God provides encouragement to Paul before He saves him and the others in Acts 27:23 "For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you."  We may not be as well-known as Paul, but we can be sure that God has a purpose beyond our natural lives for each of us who has trusted in Him.  There will be severe storms and we will need encouragement, but we can be we trust Him...that we will reach the destination and fulfill the purpose He has charted for each of us.
Rob Smith

Saturday, September 11, 2010

the best defense...

Acts 26 finds Paul defending himself in front of the Roman governor, Festus, and the Herodian king Agrippa and his wife Bernice.  They had come to welcome Festus as the new governor.  Festus was wrestling with a problem.  Paul had asked to go to Caesar for judgment, which was his right as a Roman citizen, to defend himself from charges of the Jewish high priest and others.  But Festus didn't understand the charges, or the Jewish laws he'd supposedly broken.  Before he could send Paul to Rome, he had to write a letter that explained all this to Caesar.  He was hoping that Agrippa would hear Paul and understand because Agrippa was a local leader and familiar with Jewish custom.  So Paul was hauled before these civil leaders to be examined.  But the interesting approach Paul takes for his defense is to go on the spiritual offensive.  He goes way beyond defending himself from false charges.  He tells the spiritual story of his life: before, during and after his conversion to Christ.  He shows how the transformation in his life was miraculous but that it was also the direct fulfillment of Jewish prophecy that a Messiah would come.  He also explains that the charges made against him were out of anger because Paul challenged the Jews to repent.  By using a spiritual offense as his defense, Paul was obeying the Lord to take the message of salvation to all.  One of the most powerful ways to communicate the message of salvation is to tell your own story...the before, during, and after of your coming to faith in Christ.  But the response is always up to the listener.  Festus chose to dismiss Paul as a lunatic(verses 24) Now as he made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, "Paul, you are beside yourself!  Much learning is driving you mad."  King Agrippa came close to faith (verse 28) Then Agrippa said to Paul, "You almost persuade me to become a Christian."  Paul saw every situation as an opportunity that God had given him to proclaim Christ.  He knew that the only defense he needed he already had in the form of a sovereign God.  He wasn't worried about himself...he was concerned with the eternal destiny of all others.  Unfortunately in this part of his story the responses were anger, denial and delay to the outstretched love of the Lord.  How have you responded to the Gospel yourself?  And how do you take the Gospel to others?  And how do you respond if you are greeted with anger, denial or delay?
Rob Smith

Friday, September 10, 2010

the Judge behind the judge

Acts, chapter 25, finds Paul still held by the Roman governor of Judea.  However, there has been a change in governors, and now Porcius Festus has replaced Felix.  The Jews had despised Felix and petitioned Rome for a replacement.  Apparently he had been very brutal toward them.  Rome responded...apparently they wanted to preserve peace in Judea.  But man can have a different view of peace than God.  From Rome's point of view, peace was the absence of rebellion and the acceptance of their rule.  They wanted to extend power and extract wealth and minimizing disruption from the locals was key.  Man also has a form of justice and the Romans had certain rules of justice.  Note Acts 25:16 To them I (Festus) answered, "It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning this charge against him."  It is interesting that the Jews who were so eager to see Paul judged for crimes and violations he had not committed had no problem plotting his murder.  Acts 25:2-3 Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews...petitioned him, asking a favor against him, that he would summon him (Paul) to Jerusalem-while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him.  But God intervened and preserved Paul because His ways and His purposes are high above and greater than the ways of men.  We like to think that we have peace, and we have proper government and we have justice.  But the motives of men thwart the implementation of these institutions.   Just as God delivered Paul from the murderous intentions of the Jews to complete His mission to Rome, so he will ultimately deliver his people from the aritificial peace and postured justice of this world.  That is because there is justice and there is peace and there is proper authority...but its source is Heaven, from the true throne of God...and not from any institution spawned from men.
Rob Smith

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The object of His affection

Acts chapter 24 finds Paul before the governor of Judea, an unusual man named Antonius Felix.  Felix had been a slave who had gained freedom and later used his brother's friendship with Emperor Claudius to advance politically.  He had a reputation for immorality and when Paul met him he was married to his third wife, Drusilla.  Drusilla was the great-granddaughter of Herod the Great, who had tried to kill the baby Jesus.  She was the great niece of the Herod who killed John the Baptist and her father was the man who had the apostle James put to death.  So we find it interesting that when Paul was before Felix he took advantage of the opportunity to share the gospel with these unfriendly personalities.  (Verse 25) Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, "Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you."  Paul was opportunistic about sharing the Lord.  He knew from personal experience that a person can be transformed dramatically when they come to faith and though an individual might be very hostile to God on this side of the Cross...that all can change, as it had with him.  Unfortunately, Felix didn't allow his fear of judgment drive him to repentance, but we see that the object of Paul's affection and the object of the Lord's love is people just like this immoral governor.  Jesus didn't come for people who were already saved...He came for those who are hostile and arrogant and immoral and even full of evil.  It is challenging to consider whether we would risk our lives and share our faith with the ones who despise us!
Rob Smith

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

men who would control God

Reading through Acts, chapter 23, I am struck with how we, as men, think we can control God.   Paul is standing before the council of chief  priests to find out what crime they are charging him with.  After he states that he has lived true to the law and in good conscience, the high priest directs someone standing next to Paul to strike him.  At this point the entire council seems united in hatred toward Paul and eager to do him harm.  Paul has a brainstorm and brings up a religious controversy that polarizes the council, something like the division of Republicans and Democrats in Congress.  He states that he is being persecuted because he believes in the resurrection of the dead.  It seems that half the council believed fervently in life after death and half believed with equal fervor that there was no life after death.  This took the focus off of Paul as the council priests began to argue with each other.  Then the Roman commander pulled Paul out to safety.  It occurs to me that we, as men, think we can control the nature of God with our opinions.  If we belong to a group that holds a certain view of God, and of life, then we may seek to justify our position by angry debate.  I wonder what it is about our anger and our arguments that causes us to think that we hold the keys to truth in the loudness and force of our speech or the size of the group we belong to.  God isn't defined by our arguments.  We have been defined by Him.  The chief priests found identity and security in their religious persuasions but Paul was all about the work of introducing people, not to a new set of opinions, but to a living God.  We do not own God or control His nature and our lack of understanding shouldn't cause us to become set in our thinking or hardened in our convictions.  Rather, we should become quiet and humble...eagerly listening and seeking that we might truly hear from Him, know Him and follow him.  God is not an opinion.  He is our maker.
Rob Smith

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

three identities

Acts 22:3 "I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city..."
Acts 22:16"...Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord."
Acts 22:27 Then the commander came and said to him, "Tell me, are you a Roman?"  He said, "Yes."
It is interesting to consider that Paul was a citizen of three kingoms: Israel, Rome and Heaven.  He had been born into two of those citizenships naturally and reborn spiritually to the third.  He was thoroughly Jewish and had been schooled by an esteemed Pharisee named Gamaliel...almost like going to the Harvard of his day.  This had prepared him for knowledge and leadership among other Jews.  But his zeal for the law had motivated his persecution of Christians until the Lord seized his attention with a blinding light and convicting words.  Then Paul yielded his heart to the One who would wash him clean of sin and establish his heavenly citizenship.  The Lord had plans for Paul to reach the world with the message of faith.  His roots as a Jew gave him great understanding and ability to communicate the gospel as the fulfillment of the law and Paul had been totally comfortable teaching and preaching Christ in the synagogues of Jerusalem, Asia and Greece.  But Paul had also been born a Roman citizen...possibly because one of his parents or grandparents had been extended Roman citizenship before him.  At a strategic time this citizenship spared Paul from physical punishment at the hands of centurions and provided him with a ticket to Rome because the Lord wanted him to carry the gospel there as well.  We, also, have different citizenships.  We are members of a community, citizens of a free country and participants in various circles of work, play and culture.  It is good to consider how the Lord has strategically placed us in each of these "identities".  Perhaps we can find opportunities to live, show and share Him to the world in each of these identities...because of our true and lasting citizenship for eternity, in Heaven, with Him.
Rob Smith

Monday, September 6, 2010

the problem with being Jewish

Acts 21:20-21 And they said to him, "You see brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs."
Consider the dilemma of the Jew who came to faith in Jesus in the time of Paul.  All the law, all the tradition, all the community culture and societal pattern were defined through the law of Moses and the centuries of common history, as a people.  The very glue of this nation...this people...was said to no longer carry the meaning that it always had.  The Jew was to accept Jesus and His redemption....but then what of the Law...and what of the impact to a culture that had been centered on that Law?  In a sense, Jesus seemed to threaten the identity of this nation and of its people individually.  The very thing that distinguished them from the Gentile pagan and the Roman conqueror was now said to have changed....Consider the dilemma of the Jew as he wonders, "Who am I now?"  They were called to make a leap much more difficult than the Gentiles who came to faith, because they not only embraced the Son of God, slain and resurrected, but they were called to see themselves and their knowledge of God in a new way.  Sometimes it is hardest for the characters in a play to grasp the plot line.  If the Jew understood the Law and the Prophets and the History of his people, then he would have realized that Jesus was not the end of the Law but its fulfillment.  Yet we are creatures of the routine and we embrace that which is familiar and the Jew had allowed the form and structure of their lives to become its meaning.  Actually, the form and structure of their lives had been painting a picture of the world's need for a Rescuer.  It was almost as if they were too close to see the fullness of the plan.  One became a Jew by being born into a Jewish household.  One became a Christian through faith...a new birth.  Life was now no longer about was about having a real relationship with God.  Paul was willing to face the derision of the tradition-bound that he might be the carrier of this message of new life to individuals who would receive it despite the risks of rejection on the human level.
Acts 21:13 Then Paul answered, "What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart?  For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."
Rob Smith

Sunday, September 5, 2010

bound for Him!

In Acts, chapter 20, we follow Paul as he retraces the path of his earlier journeys.  His purpose on this extended trip (lasting over 2 years) is to follow up churches that sprang up in all the places he had preached the Gospel on earlier travels.  We see that encouragement is just as important as evangelism if we are to be established and effective.  At one point, in a town called Troas, Paul speaks to believers in a third story room, after they have observed Holy Communion.  He speaks for hours, until midnight.  At that point, a young man named Eutychus who had been listening while sitting on a window ledge, nodded off and fell to the ground.  He apparently died, but Paul miraculously brought him back from the dead and then continued to preach till daybreak.  (I don't think we have any room to complain about lengthy sermons!)  But Paul is finishing his journey and is determined to return to Jerusalem.  At one point he decides to walk 30 miles by himself from one town to the next, while his travel companions take a boat between the two places.  Apparently he had much to think and pray about...and to hear from the Lord as his life was headed to a climax.  Paul reveals that the Holy Spirit has shown him that he will suffer with "chains and tribulations" after he returns to Jerusalem but his response is (verse 24) "But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."  Paul says (verse 22) that he is "bound in the spirit to Jerusalem".  I thought about the word "bound".  It seems to have two meanings.  One is to be tied securely, as with ropes, like a prisoner is held from escaping.  The other is to be headed for a specific destination, with purpose.  It strikes me that both meanings come together here.  For Paul is the prisoner of the Lord, bound by the invisible ropes of the Spirit and determined to finish his ministry and his life according to God's purposes.
I am challenged to think of as a journey...the journey mapped out by the Holy Spirit.  There are times of travel...times of ministry...times of personal reflection and time alone with the Lord.  Are we "bound" for our personal Jerusalem...bound by the Spirit and bound for the Spirit that others may find the same Spirit?
Truly we find our purpose when we help others find theirs!
Rob Smith

Friday, September 3, 2010

forces that control us

Acts 19 covers a few years of time and is centered primarily in Ephesus.  The chapter looks at the various forces that can rule us from within.  We see people who have a mental knowledge of Christ but who have not known the Holy Spirit until Paul introduces them.  We see Paul used by God to perform miracles of healing by the Holy Spirit.  But we also see people trying to misuse the Spirit as they see God's power and covet Paul's influence.  Sorcerers try to copy the genuine power of God and are dispatched by demons.  We see an entire city following the false goddess Diana and we see people flying into confusion and rage when they feel that Paul and other believers threaten the influence of this manmade idol.  But we also see the Church grow across the entire known world as the word and power of the living God convince many to trust and to follow.  We like to think that we control the forces that rule us.  But we are reminded that spiritual power can be larger than our minds and stronger than we imagine.  There are forces that seek to rule us today as well.  There is the power of popular thinking...waves of influence that we may not realize that carry us like driftwood.  There are forces that keep our vision near-sighted and that try to block us from considering our eternal destiny...just keep thinking about what we have here...what we do here...looking for satisfaction in shallow places.  We like to think that we are a modern and advanced people, but we are not so different from the people of Ephesus.  There are great forces that swirl around and seek to control us.  There is only one Force that not only can fill can lift us above self and see beyond this life's short horizon to Heaven.  The only Holy power is the Holy Spirit, sent by the Holy God who not only seeks to fill us...He longs to know us, now and forever.  It is good to consider the forces that rule us.  We are not as independent as we might think.
Acts 19:2 ..."Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?'  They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."
Rob Smith

Thursday, September 2, 2010

a higher court

Luke 23:1-2 Then the whole assembly rose and led Him off to Pilate.  And they began to accuse Him, saying, "We have found this man subverting our nation.  He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king."
Acts 18:12-13 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court.  "This man,"  they charged, "is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law."
I was struck by the similarity of events between the treatment of Jesus and of Paul.  You would think that the outcomes would be similar as well.  After all, Paul was probably considered a threat very similar to fact he was continuing to spread the message of the One they thought had been eliminated.  But God had a plan for Paul that called for him to live on.  And Gallio reacted differently than Pilate.  (verses 15-16) "...since it involves questions about words and names and your own law-settle the matter yourselves.  I will not be the judge of such things."  So he had them ejected from the court.
In fact, the one who ended up being beaten here was the synagogue ruler, Sosthenes, for bringing embarrassment to the local assembly.  But before this dramatic event, Paul was given inside information by the Lord that He had special plans for him that included keeping him alive for a while.  (from Acts 18:9 Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city."
It is encouraging to remember that God has a plan.  He will not be frustrated by men and He is not constrained by our expectations.  Moreover, He will provide the encouragement and direction we need to properly participate in that plan...if we will look up to Him and listen.
Rob Smith

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Divine Salad

I never was a big fan of salads, as a child, until I discovered tasty salad dressings.   I also became a fan of tomatoes and other vegetables in the salad.  But the foundation of the salad was always the fresh, crisp bed of lettuce.  This afternoon I'll be meeting with a few close friends to discuss the 2nd half of Hebrews, chapter 10.  As I read that passage this morning, I discovered a holy salad that is intended to be dressed with my obedience.  The salad of Hebrews, chapter 10, verses 19-25 is also built on a bed of lettuce (only it is spelled: "let us").
Hebrews 10:22 "let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water."
Hebrews 10:23 "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:24 "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Hebrews 10:25 "Let us not give meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
As we head into the fall and we resume a fuller schedule, with school and church activities ramping up, let us reflect on this divine salad.  This wonderful, holy dish has been prepared at great cost.  Verses 19-21 tell us that we can confidently come into the presence of the Lord because Jesus has torn down the curtain to the Most Holy Place with the sacrifice of His own body and yet He is now alive and serves us as the high Priest over God's house.  And so we should have a faith that full of confidence and assurance.  We are clean because He has washed us.  Our hope of eternal life is secure because Jesus can be trusted to keep His promise and He has shown the way through death to enter God's court.  But we have work to do while we still walk the earth.  We need to encourage each other to continue to share Christ, and to represent Him accurately and faithfully to others.  For there are many who walk the decks of a sinking ship who need to find the lifeboat, while time permits the opportunity.  And we must draw strength from each other because the enemy who failed to prevent our personal salvation works continually to distract and dull us from effectiveness.  We who have trusted in the Lord Jesus for eternal life are part of the great mixed salad of believers.  But the salad needs to benefit from the addition of others to enhance its flavor.  Let us walk in hope and live in power and dress this salad with our lives in the salad bowl of living.  (The fruits of the salad are the fruits of the Spirit)
Rob Smith