Posted by Russ Jones On 1:01 PM
Yesterday we watched in horror as another gunman opened fire at a community college campus in Oregon.

Yesterday we watched as a President touted his utopian stance on how we need to remove guns from society.

Yesterday we learned that the gunman specifically targeted Christians to kill in cold blood.

Yesterday we tried to understand it all and again we are left with more questions than answers.

However, from what the media and authorities have released I believe that we know more than most would like to admit.

We see the picture of a man who is desperate and disillusioned with life.  He is obsessed with death and suicide.  But then there is this one caveat that caught my attention.  His disdain for organized religion.

Now I am the first to tell you that I don't like organized religion anymore than anyone else.  Religion, by definition is man reaching up to God.  I don't know about you, but I read the story about the tower of Babel - that didn't work out so well did it?  Christianity by definition God reaching down to man through His Son - Jesus.   I prefer the that.

In a world that has decided to shun Jesus, His church (which isn't organized religion by the way).  In a world that has decided that you can do whatever you like without suffering the consequences.  In a world that has no moral boundaries or basic respect for human life.  You've got to ask the question.  "What is going to happen next?"  Well, we just found out and we will keep discovering this again and again.

But here is the question that is weighing in on my heart?  Did this young man ever have an encounter with a real follower of Jesus?  Did he ever experience a real church that showed him love, acceptance and forgiveness?  Oh you might say that these things don't exist.  You couldn't be more wrong.  There are millions of followers and thousands of churches who stand ready to represent Christ.  Their focus isn't their organized religion - their focus in on Christ and people.  Broken, needy people.

I cannot be an armchair quarterback and "guess" what went right or wrong with this young mans life. I can however say, that Jesus loved him and undoubtedly, more than once, reached out to him.  I know that Jesus offering him hope and life.  But the sounds of the godless world beating in his head drowned out the hope with their anti-religion, anti-Jesus banter.  He tried to fit into a world that was never going to let him "fit in".  Frustration and despair became his heart which found the most horrible way to express itself.

Our prayers are with and for the people of Roseburg, Oregon.  That they will not allow this young man to shape the rest of their lives.  But they too will find hope in this horrible time.  My prayer is for the followers of Jesus and the churches of that area - that they will have a clear and concise message to their community and even the world.  Hope isn't lost.
Posted by Russ Jones On 4:42 PM
This blog entry has no winners. 

It doesn't offer a bright spot or happy ending.  

A Pastor takes his own life - again.  

According to CNN.Money John Gibson, a pastor and seminary professor in New Orleans, took his own life in light of the fact that he apparently had an account on the Ashley Madison website.  If you don't know what Ashely Madison is, it is a website that offers you the discreet ability to have an affair.  Their marketing slogan is, "Life is short, have an affair".   They promised two things.  1) You can have an affair with someone and 2) we will keep your information secure.  They failed on the second one when the data from 37 million accounts were revealed on the internet for anyone to find.  John Gibson was one of them.  

What happened?  I really don't know.  I would like to point out though that he only had an account.  There is no suggestion that he actually went through with any kind of affair.  However, an old saying of my grandmothers I think will put things in perspective.  "Curiosity killed the cat."  The fact that he was there, was more than he could stand - why?  

Pastors and followers of Christ alike are suppose to live a standard that is higher than this worlds.  When one's sins are exposed for the whole world to see, it is crushing to put it mildly.  John's wife Christi said, "What we know about him is that he poured his life into other people, and he offered grace and mercy and forgiveness to everyone else, but somehow he couldn't extend that to himself."
She goes on to say that, "It wasn't so bad that we wouldn't have forgiven it,..."

So why such drastic action?  Shame.  He was so ashamed of himself he couldn't forgive himself.   Shame is a powerful emotion that usually results from depression and anxiety.  It doesn't allow you to look people in the eye.  It doesn't allow you to have a close relationship with those you love.  It's existence serves as a constant reminder that you are a failure.  That everything you stand for and believe in is a lie.  Those whom you have had the privilege of knowing and helping will look at you and think, "Wow, what a joke.  How could I have been taken in by such a jerk."  

Now before you start writing me nasty e-mails read on.  This is what shame leads you to think.  It distorts your reality and leaves you in the worst possible light possible.  I am sure that the people who loved John would have forgiven him and accepted him.  Sure there were going to be repercussions, but it didn't mean rejection.  

WHAT CAN YOU DO?  Practice real and public forgiveness for others to see.  Let the world see you forgive others and they will beat a path to your door to be forgiven.  But Russ, I can't forgive people! Yes and No.  

No you cannot forgive people of their sins.  Only Jesus can do that.  We will get to that in a minute.  

Yes, you can release people from the knowledge that you will see them through their eyes of shame for the rest of all time. True biblical forgiveness means to release people from their offenses.  That means, once you forgive them,the next time you see each other - your relationship is in no way effected by the knowledge of their offense.  Now before you go all haywire on me and tell me you can't do that - yes you can.  Jesus did it.  But Russ, He was the Son of God?  True, but that's only half of the story.  Jesus, the Son of man, was on a cross when He forgave you of your sins.  JESUS DOESN'T LOOK AT YOU THROUGH YOUR EYES OF SHAME.  

People who forgive others have a ministry that helps others discover the forgiveness, mercy and grace of Jesus.  John apparently forgot what I am telling you.  I don't know why but I wish I knew him.  I would have been happy to have reminded Him and helped him discover this all over again.  If you will forgive others, others will come to ask how they can be forgiven too.  Don't be surprised if it is people who could or should know better.  Shame is an awful emotion that can cloud the mind and heart.  Here is the key phrase that you can say that will make all the difference.  "I don't see you the way you see yourself." 

A word about Ashley Madison.  The whole idea, like many ideas on the internet, is stupid.  Run away from stupid.  
Posted by Russ Jones On 1:06 PM
I haven't blogged about everyday events in the last 40 days because I wanted the 40 Days in the Book of Acts to stand on it's own.  But to say that there hasn't been a lot to blog about is an understatement. 

Jared (the guy from those submarine sandwich commercials) pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and to crossing state lines to pay for sex with minors.  He will probably serve between five and 12½ years in prison, receive sexual disorders treatment for his "medical condition" and his wife wants to end marriage (no surprise there).

No, I don't understand how grown men and women can become ensnared by this kind of nightmare.  But the one thing that I do know is, treating this as a medical condition will most likely get you no where.  This isn't a "mental disorder" as much as it is a "spiritual disorder".

The bottom line here is that Jared (and others) do not see God's Creation as He does.  Whether it is prostitution, child porn or even porn itself - God didn't create people to be treated this way and He doesn't want us to see them that way either.  

#1 - See sexuality as God sees it.  It is a gift to a man and a woman in the bonds of marriage.  You have to admit.  When you take sexuality outside of those boundaries, it becomes something that it was never created to be.  

#2 - See people through your eyes of humility.  Don't allow yourself to be above the standard you would apply to someone else.  In other words, if you were a child - would you want to be treated that way?  

With the revelations from the Ashley Madison hack, such as Josh Duggard and Sam Radar, (I am sure that there are more to come) we see the ugly side of marriage - infidelity.  

Marriage as a whole has been tested through time by those who cheat.  So does it surprise me to see people doing it today.  NEWS FLASH!  Marriage will survive!  I pray that the marriages of Josh and others will survive too.  

But one usually doesn't get up in the morning and all of a sudden decide, "I'm going to cheat on my spouse today."  No, it is something that comes over a period of time.  A spouse gets a little closer to the flame and . . . .  At first they probably call it harmless flirting, but then it quickly turns into something else.  

#1 - Admit that marriage is going to take some work and that it will be tested one way or another.  Be prepared to forgive as well as determine to rebuild trust.  

#2 - Commit to defending your marriage against ANYTHING that even appears to be a threat against it.  That means you will take defensive position against "harmless flirting" and stop it before it goes to far. 

Anneka turned 12 this week.  Now some of you might be thinking that this doesn't belong to the aforementioned material above.  You would be right.  But I can't separate it.  

This is the world that my daughter is growing up in.  She will become an adult and have to face much more than this.  

I am teaching her how to watch for peodfiles and I have to make sure that she isn't allowed into a situation where she could be abused. 

I am teaching her, through example and action, what a Godly marriage really looks like.  The good and the bad - the ups and the downs.  She sees how Betty and I protect our marriage.  

Do I allow the people of this world to taint my outlook on life?  No way.  The Jareds and Joshs of this world do not, nor will they ever, have the right to determine my future. my marriage or the future of my daughters life.  

So I will celebrate my daughters birthday full of hope that she will become the woman that God has created her to be in body, soul, mind and spirit.  She will be able to see the world for what it is, but understanding that it doesn't own her.  

Posted by Russ Jones On 3:49 PM

Taking time to be in the Word of God has been and always will be a sacrifice. The fact that you did this is tribute to your faith and determination to get closer to God.

The reason why I choose the book of Acts was simple.  There is no other book in the Bible that can say more about today than the book of Acts.  It is my opinion and I am sure that there are others who would disagree, but my reasoning is simple.  There is no benediction to this book.

In all of the other books of the New Testament the writers ended their writings with a benediction of some sort.  Not Acts.  Why?  Because is hasn't ended.  We are the living embodiment of the book of Acts today.

What the early church did can still happen today.  More importantly, it can happen to you.  Following the Holy Spirit isn't necessarily the safest thing you can do (ask Paul).  But it is the most exciting thing you can do in your life.

Praying for the sick and seeing them healed.  Preaching the Word of God and people believing in Jesus.  Miracles, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and so much more should be the NORMAL activity of the church today.  Do you realize that every author of every book in the New Testament didn't even conceive of a church that wasn't empowered by the Holy Spirit.   Nor did they even think that a  believer would not be baptized in the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in other tongues?

Well I can hear some of you out there clearing your throat and saying, "Well Pastor . . . "  There are a lot of people who would like to point out to me a bunch of theology that excuses churches and people from even seeking or wanting the Baptism.  But let me ask you this?

Why would you want to excuse and dismiss the most powerful and influential presence of God in your life?  Why would you want to marginalize the Holy Spirit?  Why would you want to prevent people from receiving their healing or prevent others from coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?

So while you may disagree with me (and that's OK).  Seek the power of God in your life.  Ask yourself if given the chance, wouldn't you want to see today what you read about in the past come to life today?  Wouldn't you want to be a part of that?
Posted by Russ Jones On 10:36 AM
These last two days can either be used for catch up or reflection.  Let's ask a few questions in reflection about the book of Acts.

What was the BIG idea that Luke was trying to convey through the book of Acts? 

There are a lot of BIG ideas in Acts.  The Baptism in the Holy Spirit, the growth of the church, the theology of what church is, the theology of missions, etc.  But I think that what Luke wanted you to get from his writings was this.  It's all good.  Through the good times and the bad, Jesus never abandoned His people.  He never failed them.  He always had their best interests in mind.  He was always reaching to those who had never accepted Him.  We see a picture of success, but not from our point of view, from Christ's.  The growth and expansion of the church was a natural byproduct of a healthy church that pursued Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind and spirit.

Was like fairer for these followers of Jesus than those who didn't follow Christ? 

The short answer is no.  Look at Paul.  What was fair about being beaten, stoned and flogged?  What was fair about Stephen being martyred or any of the countless others who gave their life for their faith in Jesus?  For some reason people think that if they follow Christ life will be easier.  I suppose in many ways it is.  You don't have to fear death and you know that Jesus will never leave you.  But we get disillusioned when life doesn't cooperate with us.  Luke paints for us a picture of followers whose relationship with Jesus is more valuable than their comfort or personal plans.

What happened to Paul? 

The Bible doesn't tell us how Paul died.  Church history/tradition believes that he was beheaded by Nero.  Some also believe that Nero let him go and Paul traveled to Spain.  However, we would probably have some evidence of that.
Posted by Russ Jones On 10:32 AM
Acts 28:16 - 21

16 And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.  17 After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. 20 For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” 21 And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”

Paul invited Jewish leaders to his residence in Rome.  There were a number of synagogues in Rome at this time, so there could have been a number of Jews there. 

He explains that he has done, nor desires to do anything against them or the law of Moses.  That the local authorities examined my case and desired to set me free, but because of pressure from Jerusalem he was forced to appeal his case to Caesar.  

His point there is to do more than explain his situation, he wants them to see that, "the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain."  In other words, that it is his love for his people and desire to see them discover their faith in Jesus.  

The Jews response was probably a little surprising to Paul.  After all the work that the Jewish leaders did to silence him, it would have been correct to assume that they would pursue him all the way to Rome.  But they hadn't received no word from Jerusalem concerning him.  And as far as Christianity was concerned, they had heard about it, they know that many people spoke against it, but they really didn't understand it.  

As far as Paul is concerned, this is a wonderful opportunity to help the church in Rome and to lead his people to accept Jesus into their own lives.  

23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. 25 And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:  26  “‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” 27  For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ 28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” 

At a later date the Jews came, in larger numbers to hear Paul speak.  As usual, there were those who believed and others who didn't.  He taught from morning to evening.  But in the end they couldn't come to a consensus whether or not they should continue.  

That is why Paul quotes Isa. 6:9,10. as a final warning.  Basically what Paul is saying is, "If you don't listen, then the Gentiles will."  That isn't to say that if the Jews would have listened, the Gentiles would have never had a chance.  Simply that, Paul wasn't going to waste time trying to convince them of the truth.  He would have to move on.  

30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

While Paul couldn't leave his home, it didn't stop people from coming to listen to him.  We know from Philippians 4:22 that some of Caesar's household accepted Christ into their lives.  We can reasonable assume that the guards to whom Paul was chained to had their own experiences with Christ too.  

This brings our study to an end.  The next two days are set aside to catch up or reflect on what you have read.  I am going to continue to blog the next two days, in reference to the book of Acts, and ask some questions that you can now answer, because you have read the whole book carefully.  
Posted by Russ Jones On 3:24 PM
Acts 28: 1 - 15

1 After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2 The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. 3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.  Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him. And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 They also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.

They are marooned safely on the island of Malta.  (Yes, the same one that you find on the map.)  The natives there were probably decedents of Phoenicians.  In other translations, "native people" is also translated "barbarians".  This doesn't mean that they were a bunch or raging neanderthals, it means that they didn't speak Greek.  These people helped the survivors of this ship wreck by providing them some fire to keep warm by.  

Paul goes out to gather some firewood.  As he is placing the wood on the fire, a poisonous snake bites him.  The locals believe that Paul must have been some kind of murder.  The sea couldn't kill him, but the false goddess name Justice did.  They expected him to swell up and die, which was the normal reaction to this particular snake.  But after some time, he didn't die, therefore the concluded that he must be a god.  

How fickle people can be when they have a weak understanding of God or worship false gods.  They can only interpret what they see, and what they see isn't necessarily the truth.  

The governor of the island was named Plubius.  He welcomed these survivors and cared for them for three days. (Probably until everyone could be relocated to temporary shelter, after all, they will have to stay there for the winter.)  Paul minsters to Plubius' father who is dying from fever and dysentery.  After the fathers healing, the people bring every sick person who will come to be cured also.  

At the end of their stay, the people provided for everything that they needed.  Not just Paul, all 276.  

11 After three months we set sail in a ship that had wintered in the island, a ship of Alexandria, with the twin gods as a figurehead. 12 Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. 13 And from there we made a circuit and arrived at Rhegium. And after one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found brothers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. 15 And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. 

They board another ship, one with twin gods as figureheads.  This would be the sons of Zeus, Castor and Pollus.  Remember, that even with the spread of Christianity throughout the known world, false gods and religions abound just like they do today.  

From there they go to Syracuse.  After three days they made a circuit (sailing term for tacking against the wind) to Rhegium, located at the tip of Italys boot.  They get a favorable wind and go to Puteoli.  There Paul meets with some fellow Christians there and stays seven days.  Hold it!  I thought that the centurion was in charge.  But after what he has seen, I believe that the centurion is willing to give Paul all the latitude he wants.  Remember, it was Paul that encourage them and told them how to be saved from the storm.  From there they arrive at Rome.  Christians, hearing about the arrival of Paul, come from 30 - 50 miles away to greet him.  

Paul would have been turned over to Nero's guard.  However, Paul was allowed to rent his own place as long as he was lightly chained to a guard.  What do you think it was like to be a guard chained to Paul?  I think that all Paul saw was someone new to lead to Jesus, AND, they couldn't run away.  I wonder if they changed the guard every time that Paul led one to a relationship with Christ?  That would have been a lot of guards!  

English Standard Version (ESV)