The Example of Paul–Big Heads and Big Rocks

Thanks to my cousin Debbie for the idea of blogging on this passage of Scripture.  I think it’s very interesting and relevant to current Christian leaders and believers today.

So look with me in Acts 14:8-23.  Paul and Barnabas have gone to Lystra to share the gospel.  There was a man there who could not use his feet.  He had never walked.  As Paul spoke, this man listened.  Paul looked intently at him and saw that he had the faith to be made well, and he told him to stand on his feet.  The man began walking.

Now the crowd they were speaking to was made up of mostly Greeks, and in this particular city, there was a local myth that the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes had visited the village.  When they saw what Paul did, they began saying that the men were gods, and they called Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.  Verse 11: “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!”  Obviously, Paul didn’t like this.  He refuted the claims and tore his garments.  He cries, in verse 15, “Men, why are you doing these things?  We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”  Paul goes on to say that God’s character revealed by nature is the Lord’s witness.  But the crowd still sought to offer the men sacrifice.

Here Paul sets the biblical model for our response to other people’s praise of our work.  There’s nothing wrong in thanking them, but ultimately, we should give the glory to God.  He says that he and Barnabas are men just like them, but what they bring is good news.  They themselves, like us today, are not good, but the message is good.

Hopefully no one is calling us gods.  And if they are, hopefully we aren’t buying into it.  But I know that sometimes it can be challenging for leaders in the Christian community to deflect the praise and protect against getting a big head.  God doesn’t call us to missions to get a big head.  He doesn’t call us to proclaim his great name to bring about a huge ego in us.  Our leaders, pastors, and every believer must know this.  When we set the example of Christ, we set him, not ourselves, and must not gain any pride.  It’s not easy, for I know that sometimes I feel better about myself when I do Godly works, but then I’m reminded of just how much I need him.

When I was in Virginia, it would’ve been easy, and in fact, a few times was, to walk around pridefully, because I was the missionary.  Walking out into the community, I could’ve thought “I’m the missionary.  Yeah.  I’m serving God…I’m awesome.”  What about that is awesome?  It’s not me.  It’s not my job.  It’s God.  The work God calls us to do isn’t great in and of itself, but is great because of who it is about, and it is about God.

So when I walked around thinking “Yeah, that’s right…I’m a missionary,” of course God humbled me. I would screw something up in about five minutes, and hear that little voice saying “Yep.  You’re a missionary alright.  But guess what?  You’re also Neal Embry.  Remember him?”  Then I’d mutter “oh…yeah.  That guy.  He’s not that cool.”

I’m not cool.  I realized that pretty quickly in high school.  Then I realized it again in college.  I’m not cool.  But God’s cool.  And if I’m serving him….I don’t care how many Facebook friends I have.  While I want a lot of people to read this blog, and hopefully it’s always because I want them to be changed by God, not just to make me feel better, it’s worth it if only one person reads it and is changed.

Yes I do get satisfaction in serving God, and in seeing him move, but it is because it is amazing to see.  I feel like I’ve truly accomplished something, but the pride goes to pride in God, not in myself.  And Paul’s reaction to being called a god is perfect.  He deflects the attention away from him and on to the message.  That’s what I want us to see.

We must protect ourselves from getting big heads in ministry, and we must never elevate ourselves above the message of God.

Moving on.

Jews come onstage and persuade the crowd to stone Paul.  They seem to be good at persuading people to do violence.  So they throw big rocks at Paul.  They think he’s dead, and the disciples drag him away.  Paul gets up, goes into the city, then goes to Derbe the next day.  He strengthened area churches and established elders among them, and told them they must suffer tribulations for Christ’s name.

Now, I don’t think anyone would think any less of Paul if he took a day off.  These aren’t pebbles.  They’re probably pretty boss stones.  Just a guess.  It hurts.  While Paul didn’t get a big head egotistically, he probably got a good looking bump up there on his noggin.  He gets up the next day and goes to another city to share Christ with them.  That’s amazing to me.  He kept going.

We must do the same.  I think Paul was thinking that if Christ was willing to suffer that brutal death on the cross, he would be willing to take a few rocks to the head for his Savior.  Are we willing to take the hits?  Or will we sit back and lay down as the world around us continues to live in sin, condemned to hell with no knowledge of Jesus Christ?

Paul spoke of tribulation.  Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of tribulation, getting stoned with big rocks is about #276 on my list, right behind being volunteered to participate in a magic show and get sawed in half.  Don’t ask me how that could serve the kingdom….just go with it.  Anyway…

The point is that we will suffer.  It won’t be easy.  But we must remember this: It wasn’t easy for Jesus, either.  And he is worth everything, for our hope and home is in and with him, eternally.

May we live in a way that makes him known above ourselves, no matter the cost.

God bless,

Neal E


Glorifiying God when the storms come

First it was at 25….then 53…then 70…then it topped 100.  131 when I woke up.  Now, at 5:30 the night after, close to 200 people in the state of Alabama are dead after yesterday’s tornadoes and storms ripped through the region.  First and foremost, I want to send a word of prayer and encouragement to those who have lost homes, jobs, loved ones, and their sense of security, and I would hope that every Christian would do the same.

Tuscaloosa was hit especially hard, as many of the town’s businesses and neighborhoods are now completely obliterated.  Having a cousin that goes to school there, along with other friends, it was heart-wrenching to watch that tornado blow through the city.  I consider myself blessed that they’re all ok, and I’m grateful that God had His hand over them.

With that being said, what I want to get out tonight is that God is sovereign.  Over all things, our Creator is in control.  The storms of this life will never be too much to bear for those who trust in the Lord.

Isaiah 43:1-2 says that God has redeemed us.  Verse 2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

I find it a miracle, not coincidence, that the UA campus itself did not suffer much damage.  If there is any damage in Montevallo, it’s certainly not on campus.  While this doesn’t take away from the tragedy surrounding the UA campus, or the rest of the state (Birmingham, Pratt City, etc.), it certainly shows that God has His mighty hand over His people.

I won’t encourage Christians to back down, but to use this disaster as an opportunity to share the gospel with the people around them.  There’s no doubt that people will start to wonder if there is a God after this.  By the time I’m done writing this blog, more people might be dead…I don’t know.  But what I do know is that our Lord is alive and He has a plan in all this.  And it is to make His name known.

In the hard times, when the world says “give in,” when the Christian says no, and instead turns to the Lord, that is when our God is glorified.  Paul says “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”–Philippians 1:21.  To live is Christ…to die is gain.  For those who lost their lives in yesterday’s storms that knew Christ, we should rejoice that God has taken them home.  Yes, they will be missed here, and right now it may not take away the pain, but we know where they are.

I once again stress that this world is not our home.  In the cross of Christ, we find hope in life eternal, and find that our present pain and sufferings will not compare to our future glory and to an eternity of praising God for His wonderful work of salvation and love, shown to those who least deserve it.  Our heavenly dwelling will not be rocked by tornadoes, storms, downed power lines, death, cancer, disease, accidents, or sin.  It will consist of the glory of God being revealed for all eternity, and His people giving Him the praise that He deserves.

So, those who profess the name of Jesus….show it now.  Now is a chance, presented by God, to show His glory, to show that no matter what, we believe in His sovereignty and His love.  Ultimately, nothing on this earth will keep us from God.  He is always there.  Jesus is waiting to love on His children, with arms wide open, and we can find comfort in casting our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7).

This isn’t the end.  Not for Birmingham, not for Tuscaloosa, not for Alabama.  And not for the believer.  We look forward, good times and bad, to a glorious hope, to a glorious and incredible ending…an ending that even the best writer could never put into worthy words.  It will be magnificent to see our Lord, our Savior, our Comforter, our King, come and take His people home.  Home may be hard to find right now for a lot of folks.  Find rest in the Lord, friends.  Find home, and hope, in Jesus Christ.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’  And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making ALL THINGS NEW.'”–Revelations 21:1-5

Scripture goes on to say that the thirsty will come before God, and He will give from the spring of water of life, without payment.

Amidst all the pain, suffering, wreckage, and tragedy in this world, we serve a mighty God.  And we serve a risen Savior.  Tornadoes cannot take that away.  Death cannot take that away.  Our sin cannot take that away.  Nothing in this world will separate us from God.  This is what we have to look forward to.  An incredible reunion with our Savior.  And in this time, we have a God who is Healer, Redeemer, and Creator of all things.  He is in control.  Rest in this truth, and find rest in the One who gives true peace.

God bless,

Neal E.