We Packed and Went

“And after those days we packed and went up to Jerusalem.” (Acts 21:15)

Paul and his companions were on their way to Jerusalem. They had traveled a long way, mostly across the Mediterranean Sea. Now they were on the last part of their journey, going from Caesarea on the coast and then inland toward Jerusalem.

Luke traveled with Paul, indicated by the use of “we” in this sentence. In writing about this part of the trip Luke said something small, yet in my mind significant. He noted, “we packed.” This is noticeable because this was the end of a long journey, yet Luke never before noted that they packed. They sailed from Miletus to Cos, from Cos to Rhodes, from Rhodes to Patara, from Patara to Tyre, Tyre to Ptolemais, and then finally from Ptolemais to Caesarea. They obviously packed and unpacked at each step along the way, but Luke never mentioned it. He only wrote about it here, as they prepared to leave Caesarea and go to Jerusalem.

This makes me think that perhaps this was the first time Luke visited Jerusalem, and like any follower of Jesus, he was excited. He knew that this was the famous City of David, the location of the great temple, and the place where Jesus taught, did miracles, died, rose again, and ascended to heaven. Luke thought that every detail of this last part of their long journey was exciting, and so like an excited tourist he even mentioned, “we packed.”

Beyond the sweet, personal character of those words, there are a few other things to consider about this mention that “we packed and went.”

It shows us that God loves order, and packing is simply the ordering of what we have in preparation for travel. God is a God of order and planning, and our desire to have things in order is a reflection of His image in us. We should never make order and organization an idol, but it is important to be mindful of them because God is full of order and organization.

It shows us that it is wise to prepare for where we are going. Paul, Luke, and the others traveling with them each knew that packing would help them be ready for both their travel to Jerusalem and their time there. Therefore they took the foresight to get ready by carefully packing. The same principle is true for us. We all have an appointment with the future. This is true for the near future, and it is wise for us to prepare for what lies ahead in this life. So, get an education. Learn a trade. Develop a skill. Prepare for the future.

It is even truer for our eternal future. Each of us has an appointment with eternity, one that no one escapes. You should do your packing for that journey. Give your attention to eternal things right now. That means:

– Give attention to God Word, which is eternal.
– Give attention to people, who are eternal.
– Give attention to giving, to send treasure ahead to heaven.

Before you go up to the New Jerusalem, make sure you have packed and prepared for the trip.

Perfect Peace

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength.” (Isaiah 26:3-4)

God made an amazing promise through the Prophet Isaiah: “You will keep him in perfect peace.” What a promise – “perfect peace”! God promises that we can have perfect peace, and even be kept in a place of perfect peace.

In the original Hebrew text the term “perfect peace” is actually shalom shalom. This shows how in the Hebrew language repetition communicates intensity. It isn’t just shalom; it is shalom shalom, “perfect peace.” It is as if God wasn’t satisfied to give us one door of peace to walk through; He opened up the double doors of peace and said “shalom shalom.” If one assurance of peace is not enough for us, He will follow it with a second and then put on top of those two the promise to keep us there.

Some can have this perfect peace, but it is fleeting and they are never kept there. Others can be kept in peace, but it is not a perfect peace; it is the peace of the wicked, the peace of spiritual sleep and ultimate destruction. But there is a perfect peace that the Lord will keep is in.

Who are the people who enjoy this peace? Isaiah tells us: “Whose mind is stayed on You.” This is the place of perfect peace and even the source of it. When we keep our minds stayed – settled upon, established upon – the Lord Himself, then we can be kept in this perfect peace.

To be kept in this perfect peace, our mind must be stayed. So, what sustains your mind? What do you lay your mind upon? What upholds your mind? What does your mind stand fast upon? What is your mind established upon? What does your mind lean upon? To have this perfect peace, your mind cannot occasionally come to the Lord; it has to be stayed on Him.

To be kept in this perfect peace, our mind must be stayed on the Lord. If our mind is stayed on ourselves, or our problems, or the problem people in our lives, or on anything else, we can’t have this perfect peace. This is the heart that says with the Apostle Paul, “that I may know Him” (Philippians 3:10). Satan loves to get our minds on anything except God and His love to us!

To emphasize the point, Isaiah wrote: “Because He trusts in You.” This is another way of expressing the idea of keeping our minds stayed on Him. Almost always, you keep your mind stayed on whatever you are trusting. When we trust the Lord, we keep our mind stayed on Him. It all means that the battle for trust in our lives begins in our minds. If we trust the Lord, it will show in our actions, but it will begin in our mind.

These two wonderful verses end like this: “For in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength.” If the Lord calls us to rely on Him completely with our mind, He appeals to our mind with a rational reason why we should trust the Lord – because He is everlasting strength. It isn’t that the Lord has everlasting strength, He is everlasting strength.

That should put your mind at peace – perfect peace indeed!

Proof By Covenant

“And Abraham said, ‘Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?’“ (Genesis 15:8)

Jesus spoke of a faith that could move mountains, but it often seems that we are more familiar with the doubt that creates those mountains. Trusting God and His plan for our life is a constant challenge, and one faced by everyone who has ever tried to chase away doubt.

Sometimes doubt comes from unbelief – the sort of attitude that doubts that God will keep His word or can keep His word to us. Other times doubt is a by-product of a faith that is growing and maturing – the kind of doubt that recognizes that there is no weakness or wavering in God, but we are weak in our ability to trust. This was the kind of doubt that led a desperate father to say to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

God promised Abraham a son and Abraham waited ten years. He couldn’t forget the promise, and wondered when God would fulfill it. Abraham was successful in business and every other enterprise, but he must have thought “what good is it without the fulfillment of God’s promise?” This was the ache of Abraham’s heart, and it prompted his doubt-filled question to God in Genesis 15:8: “How shall I know that I will inherit it?

Abraham did what we all should do with our doubts. He brought those doubts to God, and let God speak to them. Again, understand this was not a doubt that denied God’s promise, but a doubt that desired God’s promise. God is always willing to help that kind of doubt.

So what did God do to help Abraham? God, in effect, answered: “Abraham, do you want to know for certain? Then let’s make a contract.” One way to make a contract in Abraham’s day was to have both parties walk together through the carcasses of sacrificed animals, while they repeated the terms of the contract. It seems barbaric to us, but to them it represented two things: first, it showed plainly this was a blood covenant, quite serious in nature. Secondly, it was a dramatic warning: if one of the parties failed to live up to the contract, he could expect that all his animals, and perhaps himself, would end up cut in two.

God wants to help our doubts with a contract. But our contract is not Abraham’s; it is the contract that Jesus called the “New Covenant” (Luke 22:20, Hebrews 9:15). The new covenant was also was established by sacrifice – what Jesus did on the cross towards God the Father and for us.

When we want to believe but still seem to doubt, we don’t have to think God is angry and irritated with us. We can even ask God to prove Himself to us. When you do ask for proof, God will speak to you the same way He did to Abraham. God will point you to a covenant made by sacrifice that proves God’s love and concern for you is real. God will point you to the New Covenant.

Today, ask God to help you with your doubts, and to remember He proved His love for you by the New Covenant and what Jesus did at the cross to establish it.

Great Joy from Seeds Already Sown

Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did…And there was great joy in that city. (Acts 8:5-8)

At the very end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He commanded the disciples to preach the gospel to all the earth – first in Jerusalem, then in Judea, then to Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. For the most part, the very first Christians were not interested in taking the gospel to the Samaritans. But Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. Curiously, none of the apostles led this mission. It was up to one of the deacons of the early Church – this man named Philip. When the Christians were scattered because of the persecution following Stephen’s death, Philip went to Samaria.

Who were the Samaritans? 600 years before Philip’s time, the Assyrians conquered this part of northern Israel and then deported all the wealthy and middle-class Jews from the area. They then moved in a pagan population from afar. Those pagans intermarried with the lowest classes of the remaining Jewish people in northern Israel, and from these people came the Samaritans. There was therefore a deep-seated prejudice – almost hatred – standing between the Jews and the Samaritans. You might remember that in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 9:51-56) James and John once thought that the Samaritans were only good for being burned up by God’s judgment.

Jesus didn’t feel that way about the Samaritans. He was never prejudiced against people just because of their nationality or ethnic background. The resurrected Jesus touched the life of Philip, so there was no room for this kind of prejudice in his heart. He wasn’t a racist towards the Samaritans.

Philip came to the Samaritans presenting the gospel, with signs and wonders following as an impressive confirmation. When the people found Jesus, there was great joy in that city. There were spectacular results from Philip’s ministry. We can say that one reason there was such fruit was that Jesus had already sowed the seeds in Samaria during His ministry (see John 4:1-26). Now Philip reaped the harvest. Of course there was also a harvest when Jesus and the disciples did the work in John 4, but this work of Philip was a second harvest following on the first.

Jesus sowed the seeds and Philip reaped the harvest. The Apostle Paul used this same picture to describe the working of ministry: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). The harvest is glorious – but can never happen unless the seeds are planted to begin with. Therefore no one can say that it is more important to reap the harvest than it is to sow the seeds. Both are necessary.

Perhaps right now you don’t see as much “fruit” as you would like to see in the things you do to honor God. Consider that perhaps you are sowing seed for a later harvest. Perhaps someone else will reap that harvest.

Can you be at peace with this way God works? Can you serve Him, in whatever way He leads, knowing that you might plant the seeds but someone else might reap the fruit? It means we have to trust the Master Farmer to know how to best organize the sowing and the reaping – and then we must get about the work He sets in front of us.

Falling Down

Without Me they shall bow down among the prisoners, and they shall fall among the slain. (Isaiah 10:4)

The mighty Assyrian Empire threatened the Kingdom of Israel and they weren’t ready to face the threat. They were not ready politically, militarily, or most of all, spiritually. Their only hope was to utterly rely upon the Lord God but they wouldn’t do that. Sadly, Israel wanted to be independent of their God, and their “declaration of independence” would be their ruin.

The ruin didn’t have to come directly from the hand of an avenging God. In declaring their independence from God Israel sowed the seeds of their own destruction. When the Assyrian threat came, all God had to do was let Israel stand on their on two feet. They couldn’t stand at all, and would soon fall down.

That’s why God said, “Without Me they shall bow down among the prisoners, and they shall fall among the slain.” All God had to do to bring extreme judgment on Israel was to withdraw His protection. The Lord declared that “Without Me you have no hope before your enemies.” For a long time Israel lived without God in their worship and obedience. Now they will stand before their enemies without God. It’s a painful truth – when we reject God long enough, He will give us exactly what we want. We don’t realize how much we need God until we stand where the Israelites stood and find ourselves without God.

Tragically, they could not stand at all. Instead, their posture would be just the opposite – they would bow down. When the Assyrians conquered other nations, it wasn’t enough for them to just win a military victory. They had a perverse pleasure in humiliating and subjugating their conquered foes. They did everything they could to bring them low. Here, God said, “You rejected Me, so without Me you shall bow down in humiliation and degradation before your enemies.”

Bowing down isn’t always a bad thing. One of the Hebrew words commonly translated worship in the Old Testament is shachah. It means to bow down, to reverently bow or stoop, or to pay homage. But Isaiah 10:4 uses another word for bow down, the Hebrew word kara. It isn’t a good word; it means to sink, to drop, to bring low, or to subdue. Israel had a choice – bow down in a good way before their loving God, or bow down in a humiliated, low way before their enemies. Which would it be?

This reminds us of Philippians 2:10-11, where the Apostle Paul proclaimed that one day “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Every knee will bow before Jesus. God gives us the choice: to now willingly bow down to the Lord in worship, or to have it said of us, without Me they shall bow down in suffering and humiliation. Which will it be for you?

Destined for a Throne

The king also said to them, “Take with you the servants of your Lord, and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and take him down to Gihon. There let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him king over Israel; and blow the horn, and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ Then you shall come up after him, and he shall come and sit on my throne, and he shall be king in my place. For I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and Judah.” (1 Kings 1:33-35)

Before he died, King David was anxious to proclaim Solomon as king and to do it in a way that would let everyone know he was really destined for the throne. David said, “Let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him king.” This was a rare Old Testament glimpse of all three offices in cooperation – prophet, priest, and king. All three worked together because David wanted the proclamation of Solomon as successor to be persuasive. He had five points to the plan:

Ride on my own mule
Let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him
Blow the horn
Say, “Long live King Solomon!”
He shall come and sit on my throne

We might say that God is just as concerned that we know that we are destined for a throne, that we are His sons, heirs, and that we will reign with King Jesus.

First, Jesus says to us “Ride on my own mule.” The mule was a special way of transportation – mules were rare in ancient Israel and had to be imported because of special laws against interbreeding. This was the ancient Israeli equivalent of the presidential motorcade. In the same way, Jesus says to the Christian, “Go the way I went – as the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).

In His own way, Jesus also says to His modern followers, “Let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him.” He has anointed everyone of His followers with the Holy Spirit. As it says in 1 John 2:20, “you have an anointing from the Holy One.

Jesus also wants to “Blow the horn” over His people today. He wants everyone to know about His special relationship with His people and He wants to proclaim it as loudly as possible. As it says in Hebrews 2:11, “He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”

We can also say that just as David wanted to proclaim, “Long live King Solomon!” so Jesus also wants to proclaim everlasting life and blessing to His people. As it says in John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”

Finally – and perhaps most wonderfully – Jesus says of His people, “He shall come and sit on my throne.” We are invited to reign with Jesus as overcomers, as it says in Revelation 3:21: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne.”

The point is beautiful – just as Solomon was destined for a throne and David wanted everyone to know it, so the Christian today is destined for a throne and Jesus wants everyone to know it. Much of what we experience in this life is simply preparation for that future reign with Jesus. Even if no one else gets the message, we who believe should know: we are destined for a throne.

The Strange Boast

I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. (1 Corinthians 15:31)

Paul’s general topic in 1 Corinthians 15 is the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the Christian. Some among the Corinthian Christians denied the resurrection of the believer, and Paul referred to the resurrection of Jesus as proof of the coming resurrection His followers. That wasn’t the only proof Paul offered to affirm the principle of the resurrection. He also used his own life as an example, essentially saying “I would be crazy to live this life of sacrifice and difficulty unless there was the hope of resurrection to make it worth it.” It’s in this context that Paul decided to brag a little bit.

When Paul wrote, “I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord” he let the Corinthian Christians know that he would brag a little bit. His boasting was both “in you” (that is, in the Corinthian Christians) and “in Christ Jesus.” What did Paul boast about? That he would die daily.

For most of us, it doesn’t seem like anything to brag about. I suggest that Paul turned the Corinthian obsession with image and success on its head. They bragged about their intellect and their secret knowledge and their spirituality and even their great love, but they would never brag about dying daily.

The Greek commentator Vincent said that the sense of “I die daily” is “I am in constant peril of my life.” Paul’s life was so on the edge for Jesus Christ that he could say I die daily. His life was always on the line; there were always people out to kill him. An example of this is in Acts 23:12-13, when more than forty men took a vow that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. With enemies like that, no wonder Paul could say, I die daily – and that was his boast!

It is important to understand that when Paul says, “I die daily” he did not mean the spiritual identification he had with the death of Jesus. He did not speak of the spiritual putting to death of the flesh. He meant the constant imminent danger to his physical life. It is important and useful for a Christian to daily reckon themselves dead to sin with Jesus Christ (as in Romans 6:11, Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord). But to use this statement “I die daily” to support that truth isn’t correct, because in context Paul wrote about the danger to his physical life.

That made sense for Paul and perhaps also for those brave Christians around the world today who face persecution. But what about us? How can we die daily in this sense? Charles Spurgeon gave some ways to do this in a sermon titled Dying Daily.

– Carefully consider the certainty of death
– Hold this world with a loose hand
– Every day, seriously examine your hope and experience of God
– Just as you did at conversion, come every day to the cross of Jesus as a poor and guilty sinner
– Live in such a manner that you would not be ashamed to die at any moment
– Have all your practical affairs in order so that you are ready to pass from this world to the next

This week, ask God to help you to die daily – and do it in full hope and assurance of our resurrection.

Altars and Tents

And Abram moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. (Genesis 12:8)

God had told Abram to get out of his country and go to the place God would show him. God’s commands rarely come with reasons, though sometimes we feel the right to demand them.

Though God rarely gives reasons, He often gives promises with His commands. Without going into great detail, God promised Abram a land, a nation, and a blessing. However, if he was to make them his own, he had to follow through and be obedient to God. Though his full obedience was a slow in coming, it came.

True faith will embrace both God’s promise and His command. The great Scottish preacher Alexander Maclaren said: “Some people’s faith says that it delights in God’s promises, but it does not delight in His commandments. That is no faith at all. Whoever takes God at His word, will take all His words. There is no faith without obedience; there is no true obedience without faith.”

Before Abram’s faith could fully inherit the promise of receiving a land, it had to obey God’s command to separate from his old country and his family. God still requires that those who will receive new life in Jesus separate themselves from the damaging aspects of their old life. You really can’t have it both ways. Either your faith will separate you from the world, or the world will separate you from your faith and your God.

Genesis 12:8 shows there are two emblems that can always be associated with a true man or woman of faith: the tent and the altar.

The tent speaks of someone who lives as a traveler; a person who is a sojourner or a pilgrim. They recognize that the land they are in is not their home; therefore they live in a tent, not a house. Every true man and woman of faith recognizes that this world is not their home; they are only visiting this planet. They are citizens of a better country, of a New Jerusalem that will come down from heaven, not one that can be built on this earth. They live and work on the earth, but always with the consciousness that they are really aliens and pilgrims; they will one day travel on to their true country.

The altar is the other mark of the man or woman of faith. It speaks of a life of worship and sacrifice. Though this world is not our own, while we are here we will worship our God, and give our life to Him as a sacrifice of service. The world will see our altars of worship, and they will testify to everyone that there are those who honor and worship God in this land, that there are those who will sacrifice in order to please their God.

May God grant us the power and the grace to be such examples, and to forever live lives that testify to the tent of the pilgrim and the altar of the worshipper.

Gambling on God

“Because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his own life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.” (Philippians 2:30)

The Christians in Philippi had a close relationship with the Apostle Paul. They even sent a special messenger to Paul, carrying encouragement and support from the Philippians to Paul while he was still is prison. This messenger, named Epaphroditus, became sick while on his mission.

The noble heart of Epaphroditus was evident because he put the work of Jesus first, and his own personal safety and concern second. He was willing to do something extreme for God. Paul even wrote that Epaphroditus didn’t regard his own life – but when he wrote that, he used a special phrase worthy of our notice.

The phrase “not regarding his life” was used in Paul’s day as a gambler’s word. It meant to risk everything on the roll of the dice. Paul meant that for the sake of Jesus Christ, Epaphroditus was willing to gamble everything. What are we willing to risk for Jesus? People today will take incredible risks for fame, fortune, or just an adrenaline rush. Yet are we willing to risk anything for God? Perhaps that is a good way to find out just what our God is – our God is whatever we will take the biggest risk for. With that in mind, what is your God?

In the days of the Early Church there was an association of men and women who called themselves “the gamblers,” taken from this same Greek word used in Philippians 2:30. It was their aim to visit the prisoners and the sick, especially those who were ill with dangerous and infectious diseases. Often, when plague struck a city, the heathen threw the dead bodies into the streets and fled in terror. But the gamblers – these Christians who risked everything for Jesus – buried the dead and helped the sick the best they could, and so risked their lives to show the love of Jesus.

When a gambler takes a risk, there is always a probability that he will fail. The odds are always in favor of the house. But when we are God’s “gamblers” – as Epaphroditus was – we can never lose. What is God calling you to do that seems risky? For some of us, obedience in a particular area seems too risky – it’s too big of a gamble. But the only sure way to win is to put your wager on God and risk it all. We can never lose when we bet on God.

Take Heed to the Ministry

And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” (Colossians 4:17)

In the closing section of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he mentioned many fellow Christians by name. The number of names is impressive – 11 in total, as well as two references to groups of people. Some of the people named were with Paul and he sent a greeting from them. Others were in Colosse (or near by) and Paul wanted to greet them specifically.

The number of names shows us that Paul had a lot of friends and co-laborers in his work for God’s kingdom. The variety of names means that the gospel effectively reached people of all kinds. Here are mentioned a variety of people from different background and circumstances. It shows that one of the amazing strengths of early Christianity was that it drew people of all kinds together into one common faith.

Going from Paul we have a man carrying a letter (Tychicus) and an escaped slave returning to his work (Onesimus).

Staying with Paul were Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus (also named Jesus). These men were a blessing and a comfort to Paul during his imprisonment. Epaphras, who came from Colosse, also stayed with Paul, at least for a time. Doctor Luke and Demas were also with Paul and sent their greetings.

They all sent greetings to the church Colosse, but also to the church in the city of Laodicea. Special greetings went to Nymphas (we don’t know if this was a man’s or a woman’s name in this context) and the believers who met in their house.

Finally, there was a word to Archippus – or rather, a word they were supposed to say to Archippus. They were supposed to say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry”.

I suppose Archippus would be there when they read Paul’s letter to the congregation. Toward the end of the letter as this line was read, everyone would turn to Archippus and wish him just what Paul said. They would tell him to take heed to the ministry.

This encouragement to Archippus spoke both to him and also to us regarding some enduring principles of serving God.

  • God gives ministry to His people.
  • True ministry is received in the Lord.
  • Ministry may be left unfulfilled – if we aren’t careful.
  • One must take heed to their ministry in order for it to be fulfilled.
  • We should encourage others to fulfill their ministry.

Is there some way God has given you to serve Him, His people, and a world that needs Jesus? Then be an Archippus and take heed to your ministry, the one you received in the Lord.