After Acts

rembrandt-apostle-paul-in-prison-750x914What happened to Paul after Acts? On the surface, it appears that Luke left Theophilus (Acts 1:1) and other readers hanging by not fully concluding Paul’s life story in Acts 28.

“Then he [Paul] stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with full boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28:30-31)

But if we realize that Acts was most likely written by Luke in AD 62-63, Paul was still alive. By combining church tradition from writings of church fathers in the first, second, and third centuries (Clement of Rome AD 100, Eusebius AD 300, etc..) along with certain events mentioned by Paul in letters to Titus and Timothy, we can design a reasonable outline of the remainder of Paul’s life.

– After two years in Rome under house arrest, Paul finally stood trial before Nero and was acquitted. Freed in AD 62, Paul embarked on his fourth missionary journey. It had long been his desire to reach Spain (Romans 15:23-29). Following his visit to Spain by way of Philippi, Paul’s travels can be traced through the details of his final letters (Titus and Second Timothy).
– In Paul’s absence from Rome (AD 63-67), the climate for Christians changed dramatically. The tolerance exhibited by Roman officials throughout the Acts narrative was eliminated and severe persecution, instigated by Emperor Nero himself, had broken out against Roman Christians beginning in AD 64.
– In late AD 67 or early AD 68, Paul returned to Rome where he was arrested again, along with Peter, and subjected to harsh imprisonment, an impulsive trial, and was unjustly convicted.
– In early AD 68, according to Eusebius, Paul was beheaded outside of Rome on the Ostian Way. Eusebius further documents that “Peter suffered martyrdom at the same time . . . he was crucified with his head downward, having requested to suffer this way.”

Paul’s journey with Jesus began on the road to Damascus and finished in Rome. He was faithful in (vs. 31) “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with full boldness and without hindrance.” From prison in Rome after his final arrest, Paul wrote a final farewell to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Paul finished well! So did Peter, James, Philip, Lydia, Aquila, Priscilla, Apollos Timothy, Titus, and many other faithful witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria and on to the ends of the earth.

It doesn’t matter how you start; it’s how you finish that matters.

What will our narrative say about the continuing story of Jesus’ ministry on Earth? Like Jesus’ first Disciples, let’s turn our world upside down (Acts 17:6). Like Peter and Paul and so many other faithful followers of Jesus, let’s finish well as we wait for Christ’s return when we’ll see him face to face.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

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For more info about what happened after the New Testament was complete, check out these resources:
After Acts, Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles, Bryan Litfin. Moody Publishers. Chicago, IL 2015
Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free. F.F. Bruce
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Resolving Conflict

As we gather together this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, we begin the Holiday season that provides significant time with family and friends. For many, however, the extra time with people is not a time of celebration, but of significant stress because of unresolved conflict — maybe even many years of it.

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The easy thing, the normal thing to do when we’re involved in a conflict is to blame the other person (write them off) and walk away (either emotionally or physically or both). For me personally, nothing wears me out or weighs me down more than unresolved conflict.

How do we resolve conflict when personal disagreements arise?carnage1jpg-f75362bb0d786a9c-2

 

What we need when sharp disagreements arise and when differences have caused serious pain is for God’s Spirit to HEAL our relationships. How? 

Humble yourself before the Lord to recognize different viewpoints.

Often when we “agree to disagree”, what we mean is, “well, I’m right and you’re wrong, and you’re too stubborn to see it.” It’s easier to be objective when you don’t have a personal emotional stake in a situation or conflict, so sometimes we need someone else with some emotional or relational distance to help us see and hear what we can’t on our own.

Humble yourselves (not defend yourselves) before the Lord, and He will exalt you….don’t criticize one another” (James 4:10-11) Humility is able to say and believe, “It’s not wrong, it’s just different” It also says, “Hey, that hurts…”

Engage in conversation before jumping to conclusions.

Emotions can move us to action, but as they intensify, reasoning diminishes.  If we slow down, calm down, are able to listen, and be controlled by the Holy Spirit (rather than our emotions) we can begin to see the issue from the other side. And if we’re honest, we’ll have to admit that the conflict is really a matter of personal perspective (viewpoint) rather than who’s right and who’s wrong. If the other person has valid viewpoints, what is it that I don’t see or understand? Sometimes the picture is not as black or white as we want to see it. What we personally observe or intelligently perceive isn’t enough. We have to listen to God’s Word and His Spirit, then listen to others.

“My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” (James 1:19–20)

Recently, I was feeling unfairly criticized by a friend. I felt like they were being somewhat condescending in our conversations, and I was hurt, upset. God’s Spirit prodded me to talk to this person. So, I asked, “How are we doing? I’ve noticed…. And felt… Is there something I’ve said or done?” They were shocked and surprised. It led to a good conversation and resolved a conflict that I was feeling.

Ask for forgiveness for what you are personally responsible.

You are 100% responsible for your attitudes, words, and actions.  Most of us give lousy confessions… if we confess at all. Most of us are pretty sorry at saying, “I’m sorry.” When we do something wrong or hurt someone personally, our typical responses are to conceal it, deny it, excuse it or blame it on others. (Gen. 3:12-13). Here is some relational wisdom and key components of asking forgiveness from Ken Sande:

7 A’s of Asking Forgiveness:

  1. Address everyone involved. (All those whom you affected)
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe, (Don’t try to excuse your wrongs)
  3. Admit specifically, (Both attitudes and actions)
  4. Acknowledge the hurt, (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  5. Accept the consequences, (Such as broken trust, restitution, etc)
  6. Alter your behavior, (Change your attitudes and actions)
  7. Ask for forgiveness. (Say the words, “I’m sorry, will you please forgive me?”)

Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity.” (Col. 3:12–14)

Perhaps the greatest, most notable difference between a believer in Christ and an unbeliever is the ability to seek and extend forgiveness. It’s when we forgive, as Christ has forgiven, that we are most like Him.

Look for ways to compromise more than seeking to be proven right.

When the conflict persists, care enough to work it out. Don’t run from it, gossip about it, rally support for your viewpoint, or stuff it. Don’t quit your job, your church, or your marriage because of disagreements. In Christ-like love, look for common ground and creative solutions. DeeDee: “When given the choice between being right and being kind, always choose kindness.”

St. Augustine prayed, “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.” Truly loving others and forgiving others requires the power of Christ who loves and forgives us even while we were still sinning against Him.

How do we resolve conflict when personal disagreements arise? HEAL: Humble yourself, Engage in conversation, Ask for forgiveness, Look for compromise.

Conflict between friends and, especially, family is inevitable. Unresolved conflict is a choice.

As you prepare to celebrate the Holiday season maybe the best gift you could give to loved ones is initiating some healing in your relationships because reconciliation is the best celebration.

People are celebrating Thanksgiving day

We don’t know how or when, but we find evidence that Paul and Barnabas and John Mark (Acts 15:36-40) were reconciled and celebrated their friendship and partnership in the Gospel.

  • (1 Corinthians 9:5–6) “Don’t we have the right to be accompanied by a Christian wife like the other apostles, the Lord’s brothers, and Cephas? Or do Barnabas and I alone have no right to refrain from working?
  • (Colossians 4:10–11) “Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark, Barnabas’s cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), and so does Jesus who is called Justus. These alone of the circumcision are my coworkers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.”
  • (Philemon 23–24) “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers.”
  • (2 Timothy 4:11) “Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry.”

Resolving personal conflicts is a work of God’s Spirit controlling the spirit of a believer in Christ. We can talk about God’s grace, sing about His love, preach the Gospel, and share its message, but it’s in resolving conflict, sharp disputes that we prove its worth and work.

In the same way God personally reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, we have been commanded (biblically) to reconcile with each other. Only God can HEAL the wounds and reconcile relationships when sharp disagreements come up, be we can’t ignore our part in His healing work in our hearts and in our relationships.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.
Happy Thanksgiving! And Merry Christmas!

church fights

Fighting-in-the-Pews

It has been said that “church fights are the worst fights,” perhaps because they break out among people who profess to believe in unity and love. You name it, Christians fight over it. Sometimes the disagreements are over trivial matters, but often they are serious conflicts from different viewpoints. Many Christians have been so hurt by a fellow believer that they walk away from the church and never return.

In a recent blog Dr. Thom Rainer, President & CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources & former Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor, listed 10 reasons for conflicts that arise in the church. They mainly include unfair expectations and misunderstood intentions but are common issues in many churches. Conflict happens in every church. This conflict is sometimes managed well. Other times, not so much.

We can observe a biblical example of a personal conflict between two good, godly men, Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41. Their conflict is not about even an essential or biblical issue, but personal one regarding a person: John Mark.

Here’s a great story that highlights the realities of relationships. God is moving in the hearts of His people and working through them to take the message of salvation by grace through Christ to the world. Paul and Barnabas decide, let’s go back and encourage the believers in the church. Yea! From Barnabas’ perspective, it made perfectly good sense to take his cousin, John Mark, with them again because he started out with them the first time. “What?!?” Paul thought. We are not taking that guy, that quitter, with us again. Earlier in Perga (Acts 13:13), John Mark left Paul and Barnabas to return to Jerusalem. Paul didn’t approve of John Mark’s decision and Luke did not record his reasons or motives in either chapter. Regardless, Paul and Barnabas “had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed.”  Unresolved conflict.

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So how can we preserve unity while personally disagreeing with another? Here are four things to consider in every disagreement over non-essential, personal issues.

1. Expect disagreements as normal because of natural differences. Like fingerprints, each person’s background, temperament, experiences, relationships, and perspectives are unique. Because of differences, people will naturally disagree with one another. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a part of being human. Consider some of the differences between Paul and Barnabas: Paul was about the work; Barnabas the worker. Paul was more task oriented; Barnabas who was more people oriented. Paul was missional whereas Barnabas was personal. Paul was a teacher and Barnabas was more of a pastor. They had a different relationship with John Mark since he was Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10). There were other differences between Paul and Barnabas in regard to their training, home-life, temperament, spiritual gifts, experiences, and passions. In other words, they were different.

2. Even good, godly people will not always agree. This personal, relational conflict between these two godly men helps us see this. The Greek word, paraxusmos, is the word from which we derive our English word paroxysm, which denotes violent action or emotion. This was not a mild disagreement but an intense and passionate conflict! The term, when used negatively, describes anger, irritation, or exasperation in a disagreement. In Hebrews 10:24, it is used positively of stimulating or stirring someone to love and good deeds. Disagreeing is not always a sign of sin or selfishness. Robert Cook has said, “God reserves the right to use people who disagree with me.” By accommodating one another in love, mature believers can disagree without being disagreeable.

3. Every disagreement has an issue and varying viewpoints.  The issue always involves principles. The viewpoints always involve personalities. Differing points of view on the same issue are what usually causes conflict, not two different issues. Sometimes, identifying the issue and the viewpoints can greatly help us understand one another and move us toward a resolution and reconciliation. What is the issue? Is it essential, biblical, or personal?  What are the viewpoints? How could two godly men, both with good intentions see the same issue and come to such different conclusions? Why it so difficult to understand what another person is thinking?

4. Each viewpoint is valid in most disagreements. The story of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas makes us uncomfortable, but Luke’s realism in recording it helps us to remember that these two godly men, as they themselves said to the people of Lystra, were “human beings with feelings like” any other (Acts 14:15). Notice that Luke does not relate the conflict in such a way as to put Paul in the right and Barnabas in the wrong or vise versa. BOTH of them had a valid perspective. In the heat of an argument, we usually see only one side - our own (perspective, personality, communication style, bias, etc.). But if the disagreement issue is not objective (either theologically or biblically), then it’s subjective. It’s personal for each Christian and not universal for every Christian. There’s room for someone else’s view, right?

A phrase used and applied often in our home that addresses disagreements because of various, valid viewpoints is this: “It’s not wrong; it’s just different.”

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The easy thing, the natural, and, unfortunately, normal thing to do when we’re involved in a conflict is to blame the other person (write them off) and/or walk away (either emotionally or physically or both). For me personally, nothing wears me out or weighs me down more than unresolved conflict. Maybe it’s because as I was growing up in my home, conflict was something to be avoided. And what I learned by experience in my family was that usually unresolved conflict resulted in withdrawal (physical, emotional, or both). So out of fear of distance and lost relationship, I naturally want to avoid conflict at all costs. I’m still growing, I’m still learning, I’m still very much “in process”.

What we need when sharp disagreements arise is for God’s Spirit to HEAL our relationships by resolving our conflicts.

How? I’ll address resolving conflict in my next blog post. 

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Never Alone

Lonely.

Everyone gets lonely. There are frequent moments when we feel unknown, forgotten, ignored, or even rejected. Feeling lonely is not about being isolated because you can be alone a crowded lunchroom, a full house, a birthday party, or even a packed church. Sometimes, the greater the number of people present, the more intense the feelings of loneliness can be.

In Psalm 143, David cries out to God in part because of the suffering of his own sin, “Do not bring Your servant into judgment” (vs. 2), and also because of an enemy who had ground David down so that he felt depressed and alone in the dark (vv. 3-4). He felt like no one understood the depth of his emotions. No one seemed to care what he felt or how he suffered. He was lonely.

That’s when he turned to the Lord. “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all You have done; I reflect on the work of Your hands” (vs. 5). David remembered, meditated, and reflected on the character of God, his relationship with Him, and what God had done in the past. “Let me experience Your faithful love in the morning, for I trust in You” (Psalm 143:8).

That’s it, isn’t it? During the inevitable times when we feel alone, worthless, and rejected, we remember who God is, meditate on what He has done, and reflect on His promises to always be with us.

“Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
“I will never leave you or abandon you (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5)

There are also many modern songs that reflect His promises to help carry us through the darkest of nights.

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside
Great is Thy faithfulness” 
Thomas Obediah Chisholm | William Marion Runyan

“Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes our hearts can say 
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful God You are faithful” 
Never Once | Jason Ingram | Matt Redman | Tim Wanstall

“I cried out with no reply and I can’t feel You by my side
So I’ll hold tight to what I know – You’re here and I”m never alone
And though I cannot see You and I can’t explain why
Such a deep, deep reassurance You’ve placed in my life” 
Never Alone | BarlowGirl

“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all You have done; I reflect on the work of Your hands. Let me experience Your faithful love in the morning, for I trust in You” (Psalm 143:3-5).

Because God is always faithfully present, you and I are never alone.

Follow me…. as I follow Jesus Christ.

Racism and Racialization

Most of the people I know are not guilty of racism, but many (whites) like me, and including me, are culpable of racialization – the collective misunderstanding of cultural position or unintentional misuse of power which causes racial division and results in diminished life opportunities for other racial groups.
Racialization is so embedded within our culture, it seems so normal, and it’s so difficult for some to see that the intentions our words or actions don’t have to be racist to contribute to racial division and inequality. Because our racialized society often both produces and reflects misunderstanding, hostility, disorder, unequal treatment, conflict, violence, compromised life opportunities, and other social problems, our nation has historically, with varying degrees of intensity, searched for ways to overcome it. And, yet, our nation still struggles with it.
Racial reconciliation with others will never happen by simply pursing love or unity – it will only come from pursuing Christ who reconciled us to God so that we can be reconciled with each other (2 Cor. 5:18-20).

That’s why I’m committed, as a white man by God’s creation and a follower of His Son, Jesus, by faith, to pursing multi-cultural relationships, multi-ethnic reconciliation among them, and multi-facited collaboration within and among local churches as a part of Threaded.

As we meet together and share our lives together (who we are), I’m constantly challenged in my thinking and perspectives, I’m continually encouraged by other fully-devoted followers of Jesus Christ, and I’m completely loved (when I ask stupid questions or same dumb things) by amazing men and women who by God’s design are different than me.

Follow me… not because I’m perfect… but because I’m following Christ.

 

Music and Memories

Music helps us connect life experiences with past memories. We need older songs to help us remember God’s Word and His faithfulness. At the same time, we also need new songs to make new connections. Words may challenge the mind, but music speaks to the heart.

This morning while reading through Psalm 9, I was reminded of a Keith Green song from years ago that helped me connect God’s Word during some difficult circumstances.

“I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders, I will be glad and exult in Thee.” 

I remember the verse because of a simple musical tune. I’m reminded of times as a much younger man when I was faced with decisions to either give in to doubt and become bitter OR trust the LORD and give thanks.
Now years later, I can rejoice in the God who delivered me and continues to lead me. The Keith Green song is definitely dated and probably wouldn’t mean much to my kids or a younger generation. They need new songs to remind them of God’s Word and His faithfulness.

And the reality is that I need new songs, too, to be reminded that God is still working in the world. He’s still making things new. And He’s still working in me.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Magnificent

O LORD, our God, how incredible is Your character and reputation throughout the heavens and the Earth.

When I slow down enough to really think about who You truly are – I’m in awe. It’s amazing to consider all that You’ve done so easily and completely, and yet, You love humanity (me) as Your creation unconditionally. Even though we are sinful, selfish, people, You give us both dignity and responsibility.

“O LORD, our Lord, how magnificent is Your Name throughout the Earth.” Psalm 8:1