My Story

You’ve perhaps heard the old line, “Things aren’t always as they appear to be.”

Well, as you are about to hear in this PODCAST, sometimes things are exactly as they appear to be.

Case in point, Peter’s exposé of Simon the Samaritan Sorcerer.

Kudos to Peter. The apostle properly diagnosed the terminal condition of Simon’s tortured soul with pinpoint accuracy.

A diagnosis that, were I to be honest with you, hits me way too close to home. For as much as I am ashamed to admit it to you, I have battled this very demon too.

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God bless you richly as you listen.

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The FIRST of Some Pretty Amazing Firsts

If this doesn’t send shivers up your spine, I don’t know what will.

In this PODCAST, you are about to hear an absolutely amazing story about a most-remarkable individual, whom we barely met last week—Simon the Samaritan Sorcerer.

A man, BTW, whose eternal destiny—when all is said and done—remains a question mark, shrouded in mystery.

For of Simon we read,

“Then Simon himself believed and was baptized” (Acts 8:13).

So far, so good!

But then we read a mere 8 short verses later,

“But Peter replied… ‘Your heart is not right with God.’”

Uh oh.

Simon the Samaritan Sorcerer—A living, breathing contradiction—as we might expect from someone trafficking on dark side.

There is so much to this story that it is hard to know where to begin. So we will start with this…

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God bless you richly as you listen.

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Simon the Samaritan Sorcerer

His legacy is forever set in stone, indelibly etched in granite as Simon the Sorcerer.

As you are about to hear in this PODCAST, Simon the Sorcerer is the very first person we meet outside of the cozy confines of the Holy City, Jerusalem. #ThisIsHuge!

You talk about a guy who had the deck stacked against him, meet this Simon the Samaritan Sorcerer.

That gasp you just heard was the rush of disbelieving air exploding out of the collapsing lungs of Luke’s original readers.

Trust me: We should gasp too!

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God bless you richly as you listen.

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The Man Who Bore the Stigmata

YOU are poetry personified.

A living, breathing, warm-blooded, lyrically beautiful poem.

Want proof? Here’s proof:

His name is Saul of Tarsus.

To us, he will forever be memorialized as the celebrated Apostle Paul. Though, as you will hear in this PODCAST, he would reject out of hand that lofty adjective “celebrated.”

We celebrate Paul because we owe to him more than we could ever hope to repay. For starters, thirteen epistles preserved as New Testament Scripture. Which, when taken together, form 23% of NT.

It is true that our old friend Luke was actually the more prolific of the two—Luke wrote slightly more of the New Testament in terms of word count, 27%. (And BTW, in case you are interested, the Apostle John gets the bronze medal—John’s Gospel, 3 epistles, Revelation combine for 20% of the New Testament.)

It is to Luke we owe a huge debt of gratitude for his compelling biography of Jesus and his gripping history of the ancestors in our faith, in whose glow we bask each week as we study this great book of Acts.

But it is really Paul who more than any other biblical writer lays for us theological foundation for our faith.

So while we do indeed, and for good reason, celebrate the vaunted apostle, he would describe himself as the least—λχιστος (a superlative, “less than the least”)—of all the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9). And Eph 3:8, “less than the least of all God’s people.”

This was not false modesty on Paul’s part. Not at all. This was a guy who was abundantly self-aware. He knew the roots from which he sprang. He knew that his very first mention in the New Testament places him at scene of, and makes him complicit in, the stoning of Stephen. Not Paul’s finest hour by any stretch.

Paul understood that all that he was was do solely and singularly to God’s amazing grace. The chorus of which he sung regularly and repeatedly.

So much for us to learn and know and appreciate and to emulate in this marvelous man. Let’s meet him now.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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The Most Glorious Gift You Can Imagine (Courtesy of Stephen)

Philippians 1:3 (in the NLT) reads,

“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.”

As you will hear in this PODCAST, Philippians is a “Thank You” note from Paul’s sizable soul to the not-so-sizable ékklesia—or small faith family—meeting in Philippi.

Paul wrote this precious little letter upon receiving a financial gift that the believers there sacrificially sent to him to help sustain him during some very dark and difficult days during which he was imprisoned in Rome.

As I reflected upon the fact that this week we will celebrate five glorious years together as our own Safe Haven ékklesia, it did not take me long to realize that (as it is translated in the NIV),

“I thank my God every time I remember you.”

BTW, please keep listening until the end, where I give to you a little anniversary gift of my own, courtesy of Stephen—the first martyr of our precious Christian faith.

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God bless you richly as you listen.

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A Sermon for the Ages (Not mine, but Stephen’s!)

It was a sermon for the ages.

As you will hear in this PODCAST, it was originally preached by a layman. He had no formal training in advanced biblical studies. There is no mention of any degrees. No diploma hung on his office wall, if he had an office. We have no indication that he had studied under a leading rabbi, such as Saul studied under Gamaliel.

His only claim to fame? Stephen was (Acts 6:3) “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom”; (6:8) “a man full of God’s grace and power.” And that was certainly enough!

Stephen was a humble, unassuming man, selected by Hellenistic, Greek-speaking Jewish believers in Jesus to be one of “The Seven,” chosen to care for their neglected widows.

Through circumstances not of his choosing, Stephen was suddenly thrust into the spotlight, hauled violently before the Sanhedrin, and forced to testify on his behalf.

But instead, Stephen chose to testify on Jesus’ behalf.

And oh what a testimony it was. You talk about power.

Stephen embodied God’s power as he took the High Court on an exciting excursion through Old Testament history.

And in so doing, provided for us a most-significant warning. One that you and I desperately need to hear.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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Pivot-Point

I LOVE meeting new friends.

As you are about to hear in this PODCAST, we have the privilege of meeting yet-another. A standout individual. A stellar human being. Though given his humility, I am sure that he would not be comfortable with my characterization.

His name is Stephanos. Significantly, a Greek name. (As we learned last week, a not-so-trivial factoid.)

A man affectionately known to us as Stephen.

A name that means “crown.” In Stephen’s case, a well-deserved crown that he is no doubt wearing in Heaven as we speak.

A man who stood as—and at—pivot-point of history.

There haven’t been many of those throughout human history. But the event about which you will hear certainly rises to that level of an event after which our world, let alone our lives, would never be the same again.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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Problem Solved!

It was a scandal in the making.

As you are about to hear in this PODCAST, a vast cultural divide threatened to rip asunder the fragile fabric of unity these first believers in Jesus earlier enjoyed.

As we learned last week (Podcast #27), the story begins,

“But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.”

That was, as you will remember, a dire situation for these precious widows. Dire in the extreme. Women who had lost their husbands, and who were now among the most vulnerable in that male-dominated society. Females forced to live in a world that diminished women to a subservient status. One that rendered them uneducated, unskilled, unemployable, utterly without resources. Totally dependent.

Now that they had become followers of Jesus, they could not return to their synagogues for support. Not to worry. We read earlier in Acts 2 that

“(These first believers) would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it… and shared their food happily and freely.”

Not any more.

Last week, we went into much detail about the collision of cultures faced by these early believers. A vast cultural divide between the Greek-speaking (Hellenistic) believers who were in the minority, and Hebrew-speaking believers who were in the majority. A cultural divide of church-splitting potential.

So wide a divide that the majority discriminated against the minority to the risk of the lives of Greek-speaking widows.

This was serious. So serious that the Apostles (all Twelve of the Apostles) were forced to drop everything in order to address problem.

Their solution was nothing short of brilliant! For them. And for us!

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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More Than Just a Food-Fight. So.Much.More

It was a matter of life and death. Literally.

Make no mistake about this: As you are about to hear in this PODCAST, these “rumblings of discontent,” as Luke characterized them, represented anything but some small-time, garden variety, trivial church-squabble.

What happened here in Acts 6 exposed a clash of cultures that tore asunder the awe-inspiring oneness heretofore enjoyed by the Jerusalem Christian Community.

You might remember what we observed as recently as at the end of Acts 4.

Verse 32, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

Not any more!

Now, sadly, at the beginning of Acts 6, that blessed unity coupled with their selfless generosity Was.No.More.

Something had changed.

Their fellowship fractured. Their unity dissolved into disunity. A rift developed that literally rent the fragile fabric of unity completely in half.

Again, at the risk of sounding redundant, I must stress two vitally important points before I immerse you in the nitty-gritty of what exactly was going on here.

FIRST: We make a grave error of interpretation and application of Acts 6 if we view this not-so-exemplary episode as just the first of the kinds of common conflicts that characterize so many church squabbles and skirmishes today.

This was not some intramural argument about what style of music we should have in our worship services, or the color of carpet we should install in the new Fellowship Hall. You know—the kinds of stuff over which churches so frequently split these days.

Again, this was literally a matter of life and death. The lives of the most vulnerable of these first committed Christ-followers were in jeopardy, not because of external persecution.

SECOND: Please understand that this church fight exposed an internal underlying clash of cultures that was far more serious than we might realize.

On the surface of things, a casual reader might merely relegate this Acts 6 kerfuffle to growing pains—too many people added to the church in too short a time. Rapid growth that resulted in a first-of-its-kind food-fight within hallowed halls of that first century church. Because conflict certainly does involve growth and food. But dig a little deeper and we’ll discover that growth and food were merely symptoms of a potentially deadly disease that threatened to rot the soul of this newly-founded church.

Now listen carefully: Believe it or not, this conflict involved the exact same clash of cultures that we as committed Christ-followers are attempting to navigate even today.

It is Today as it was Then.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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THE Man who was God’s Reward

He is the unsung hero of Church History.

As you will hear in this PODCAST, I would not be overstating the case to suggest that if it wasn’t for this individual, there would be no Church History.

Indeed, if it wasn’t for him, all twelve apostles would have been executed, summarily stoned to death on the spot.

Hear it for yourself in Acts 5:33, “When they heard this, the high council was furious and decided to kill the apostles.”

And they surely Would.Have.Killed the apostles—all of the apostles—if it wasn’t for this one man. This one man who wasn’t even a believer in Jesus. This one man who stood as a buffer between the High Priest and the Apostles.

His name was Gamaliel. And whether you have heard of him before or not, he factors prominently in the development of the New Testament Church in multiple ways.

Gamaliel, a man who certainly lived up to the meaning of his legendary name: “The Reward of God.” For God surely rewarded the faithful obedience of the twelve apostles by sovereignly superintending Gamaliel to be an honorable member of the dishonorable High Council.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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