Wednesday, 31 October 2007

He showed them from the scriptures

“And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.” Act 18v27-28

I really like some of the “minor characters” of the scriptures. Although, to some of my close associates calling Apollos a minor character would be an offence since they think he wrote Hebrews. (Poor attempt at humour J )

Anyway, Apollos was a devout Jew who was doing all he could do to worship and serve God. But he didn’t have the full truth yet – he had been baptised by John, but that was all he knew. Aquila and Priscilla heard him preaching and went to him to help him put the final pieces of the puzzle together. Apollos was saved and baptised then and he immediately began preaching that Jesus is the Christ.

Apollos went to Achaia where he was a great help to the disciples there. I think the reason he was a great help is key for us – he refuted Jews which was great, but it how he refuted the Jews that is an example for us. Apollos was effective because he showed them from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

I find myself too often trying to reason my way when dealing with people. I can be, dare I say it, afraid to bring the Bible into it for fear of putting people off. We need to remember that nothing replaces the word of God in showing them that Jesus is the Christ – the way the truth and the life.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

His spirit was provoked…therefore he reasoned

“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.” - Act 17v16-17

When we first got to our town in Ireland we were the only Christians that we knew about. For several months we lived and tried to get to know people without encountering a single believer. There were other times in those early years that were lonely so I can somewhat identify with how Paul felt when he was all alone in Athens.

As Paul walked through the city he found that it was totally given over to idolatry. He must have felt hopeless and helpless. So what do you do as a believer in a wicked idolatrous place when you are all by yourself? Wait for reinforcements? Cower in fear and loneliness? Leave?

Nope – you do what Paul did. He went throughout the city talking with everyone he could. He talked to Jews in the synagogue, he talked to religious people, and he talked to people in the marketplace. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

O that I could have that same kind of fire when I am all alone!

Monday, 29 October 2007

They searched the scripture daily … therefore many believed

“These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.” - Act 17v11-12

Paul and Silas left Thessalonica and went on to Berea to preach the gospel. They had a much better reception there, because the people were more noble or fair-minded that the people in Thessalonica. They eagerly listened to the word of God. They searched the scriptures daily to see if what they preached was true. As a result many of them believed.

For God’s word to have an impact a few things must happen. Their must be ready hearts, there must be preaching that is faithful to God’s word, and there must be hearts willing to examine the Bible teaching for themselves. When all this comes together God’s word will do a work. Many in Berea were saved as a result of these things coming together.

All the prepared preaching, all the methodology, and all the persuasion are useless unless there is a faithfulness to God’s word and hearts ready to receive it.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

These who have turned the world upside down

“But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.” - Act 17v6

One of the things I find amazing about the early church is the fear, envy, and anger they stirred up in the government and Jewish authorities. Here, Paul and Silas had come to Thessalonica, a city of 200.000 people and a true metropolis of its time.

Like they always did they went to the synagogue and began preaching the gospel. It had a great impact and a lot of folks got saved. That didn’t set well with the unsaved Jews so they gathered a crowd to go find them. They knew they were staying with a man named Jason so they headed to his house. When they couldn’t find the disciples that dragged Jason and some other believers to the city authorities and said this, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.” They then told the typical lie that they were opposing Caesar. Jason and his friends were released on bail.

The important thing is the attitude of the Jews. They called the disciples, “These who have turned the world upside down.” This small group of believers, only a handful at the start, had such an impact that they were seen as turning the world on its head.

Why then, do we tend to cower in fear at the task before us? Is the Holy Spirit any less powerful than He was then? Has God’s word any less impact? If we would follow Christ as they did have we not the potential to turn the world upside down today?

Saturday, 27 October 2007

He rejoiced, having believed God

“Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.” - Act 16v34

God used all kinds of situations to bring men to Christ. Here Paul and Silas were imprisoned. As they sang and prayed at midnight an earthquake shook the jail and released all the prisoners. The jailer who knew he was responsible and could pay with his life was about to kill himself for failing in his duty.

Paul stopped him, “We are all here!” The man cried those immortal words that ring out all through time – “What must I do to be saved? Paul left no room for debate, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

The jailer and his family did just that – they believed ad they were saved. They had Paul baptise them. Then they cleaned Paul and Silas’ wounds and fed them.

The wonderful thing though was the impact it had on the jailer and his family. They rejoiced in the fact that they all had believed and been saved.

One thing that we note about the book of Acts is that the early believers had a heart and mind to see others saved. Paul and Silas could have run and left the jailer to face his own problems. Instead they took the opportunity to stay and see a family saved. The result? Another family rejoicing in salvations and angels rejoicing in heaven!

Friday, 26 October 2007

But at midnight

“But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” - Act 16:25

I wish I was a songwriter. I wish I was a poet. I wish I was a writer. Hey, I wish I was a proper blogger. If I were any of those I would do something titled “But at midnight” to tell the story of Acts 16v25.

This has always been one of my very favourite mental images. Paul and Silas were going about their own business when a series of unfortunate events resulted in their false arrest. They received “many stripes” and were thrown in jail. Word must have been out about what happened when these Christians went to jail because they took extra security measures by putting on guards and putting them in stocks. From what I have read stocks did not change a whole lot over the years. The stocks I saw in the Tower of London were wooden and they held both hands and feet. I imagine that the first century stocks were similar.

I have never been to a first century prison, but two of my children have. The typical prison of the time was simply a carved out place or underground cave. The only access was through a hole in the roof. The oubliette (French for “to forget”) was a similar prison used in the Middle Ages. They were cold, dark, and damp.

So, the setting in this – Paul and Silas, have been arrested on false charges, beaten many times, clasped in stocks and thrown in a windowless, dark, dirty cell with no chance of escape.

Now, put yourself in their situation. What would you do? I think I would have just cried in my misery. How much worse could it get?

Now we get back to the phrase, “…but at midnight.” What happened at midnight in this cold dark place? Paul and Silas were praying and singing and the other prisoners were listening to them! I can imagine them sitting there, with their hands and feet in prison just singing out a song like “Amazing Grace.”

What a challenge to my heart. I whinge, cry, and complain over all kinds of trivial things, yet these guys were in a situation I will never be in. May I learn to pray and rejoice no matter where I find myself.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

The Lord opened her heart

“Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” - Act 16v14

I don’t claim to know all about how the sovereignty of God and the free-will of man work together. However, when I see things like I se today one thing is clear – man cannot be saved at his own initiative, God must do a work.

After the vision of the Macedonian man Paul, Silas, Timothy, and now Luke set sail for Macedonia, stopping overnight on an island about half-way there. They arrived the next day where they find a place where a group of Jewish women met to pray. One of the women was a business woman named Lydia who made her living selling expensive purple clothing.

As Paul spoke something happened in Lydia’s heart. As God opened her heart to receive His word she understood the things Paul talked about and was saved and baptised. God would use Lydia as part of the founding of the church at Philippi.

The important thing to note is that God had to open her heart to receive His word. There can be no work of God apart from His preparing the way. We try to find ways to convince, cajole, warn, scare, and manipulate people to “get saved.” No mater what our views on the sovereignty of God and the free-will of man, we must agree that it is God’s work that brings them to Himself. All we can do is be faithful in presenting His word so that He can open their hearts to it.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Come over and help us

“And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." - Act 16v9

I was going to skip over this, since I am a “missionary” (I prefer the term “church planting pastor”) and since it is a verse that most people have heard many times. Yet, I think there is a message here that is good for us all.

Paul, Silas, and the new believer Timothy were all set to go into Turkey and preach the gospel. Somehow, we are not told how, the Holy Spirit stopped them. In words we might use today; God closed that door of service.

Then God sent a vision to Paul. In the vision a Macedonian was calling out to them, “come over to Macedonia and help us.” God knew that the time was right to preach the gospel in Philippi and other cities of Macedonia.

A couple of brief lessons for us. First, the old saying “When God closes one door He opens another,” has some merit. Paul did not force the door to Turkey open, but waited for God’s direction. How often do we get in trouble because we insist on kicking doors open?

The second lesson is obedience. Paul and the team simply obeyed, they took the gospel into Macedonia.

I don’t know how all of this plays out today in the will of God and missionary calls, but I do know that we are better to obey God then our own stubborn wills.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

They rejoiced over its encouragement

"When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement.” - Act 15v31

I have really enjoyed this far to brief look at the Jerusalem council. It has been exciting and challenging to see how the church dealt with disagreement and possible division.

Notice one last comment before we leave this and move on. The disciples took the letter back to Antioch to read it to the church there. I can’t even imagine what it was like in that crowd. The saved Jews must have been hoping for confirmation that they were right. The Gentiles surely hoped that circumcision was not going to be a part of salvation.

The letter was read – a solid compromise had been reached, and the people all rejoiced over the encouragement of the letter! Both sides could live with the agreement. Humans being humans this was not the end of the issue, but the letter encouraged the church to move on in its infant stages.

There is plenty written today by good men who sincerely are trying to “earnestly contend” for their view of the faith. From every shade of Christianity writers try to prove they are right and to convince us that they are exposing error.

I always enjoy and am lifted up when I read the kind of letter that causes me to rejoice in its encouragement.

How encouraging it would be if we could read of men who would come together to consider the matter instead of grabbing acerbic pens at every opportunity in order to prove their particular point of view.

Monday, 22 October 2007

We Can Work it Out

“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” - Act 15v28-29

In some circles “compromise” can be a dirty word. I still have a dictionary that has the word “compromise” crossed out because a preacher said it should not be part of our vocabulary. And yet, as we look at the church in its early stages, give and take was apart of their practice.

Here the apostles and pastors in Jerusalem faced a crisis. On one hand they had saved Jews who had spent their whole lives trying to keep the law. On the other hand they had saved Gentiles who had lived lives with no restrictions or limits on behaviour. How do you reconcile a problem like that?

They met, they prayed, they talked, and they discussed. Finally they came up with, dare we say, a compromise. They wrote a letter to be carried by the preachers with a few things to help draw the church together. These were designed so that the Jews would not be offended and that the Gentiles would not run wild in liberty.

Avoid foods offered to idols

Avoid foods which involved blood

Avoid foods from animals that had been strangled

Avoid sexual immorality

The churches and believers of the time did not have the completed Bible yet. Of these suggestions only one of them would be repeated in the rest of the New Testament. Sexual purity would be the only one of these that would make it to the completed New Testament. From Romans 14-15 it does not appear that the others were permanent restrictions, but a compromise until the church was established.

There are times when God just wants us to work it out. So often we can do that without compromising Scripture. Let’s give it a go folks – surely we can work it out.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Yoke-free salvation

“and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” - Act 15v9-10

The religions of the world are full of rules, regulations, sacraments, and practices. All of these have the intended purpose of showed people how to be saved. “Do this or don’t do that,” and everything will be okay. “Here are the regulations – follow these and God will let you into heaven.”

What a heavy yoke to bear! It all falls out on the one trying to achieve the goal. Jesus addresses the particular yoke of keeping the Jewish law when He said, “My yoke is easy and my burden in light.” God’s offer of salvation is that we can be purified by faith made possible through His grace.

The saved Pharisees were trying to impose the yoke of circumcision and the law on the Gentiles being saved. There is no place for yokes in God’s plan of salvation.

Someone reading this today may be wearing a heavy yoke of religion. That is not God’s plan or desire. He will purify your heart and life of sin by faith. His grace extends to all – there is no distinction in God’s eyes. Throw off that yoke and accept His free gift of a “yoke-free” salvation.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

They came together to consider the matter

“Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.” - Act 15v6

It didn’t take long for the first potential division to rock the young church. Paul and Barnabas were busy seeing people saved, churches established, and Christians edified. Anyone who has seen great progress in the ministry could have told them what was coming next – Trouble (notice that is with a capital “T”). Some Christians, notably saved Pharisees had a hard time with seeing Gentiles saved and added to the church. This was just a step to far for them. Some of them decided that those who got saved had to submit to circumcision. Practically speaking that would be enough to put most men off from getting saved!

Paul and Barnabas could not believe it. They were stunned that someone was trying to add works to the gospel of grace. The dispute got a bit out of hand it looks like so they decided to take it to the pastors and the apostles who were back in Jerusalem. There the issue was laid out. Was is salvation by grace, or were circumcision and the law required for salvation?

We’ll lay the answer aside for the moment. There is something else we need to note. Both parties could have split up, written articles, and held conferences to expose the other side and prove that they were right.

But what did these men do? They took their dispute to the apostles and pastors. There the dispute once again got hot and heavy, but still the came together to consider the matter.

I think today we use the term “dialogue.” These men, with a huge difference, sat down and worked through the issue. Far too often today we never get to the point of trying to “consider the matter.” Instead we rush out, both guns blazing, trying to shoot down the other side.

I know God is sovereign, don’t take me wrong here. But “what if” these two parties in the early church had not come together to consider the matter, but instead acted like we so often act today?

Friday, 19 October 2007

They commended them to the Lord

“So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” - Act 14v23

I am the kind of person who likes to be in control of the situation. I have a hard time taking my hands off and letting someone else be in control. Part of it might be laziness as the guy in charge gets to tell others what to do, but the biggest problem is pride. At then end of the day I can really think that only I can do it right.

There are all kinds of problems with this mindset. No one can run everything knowing perfectly. Being a church planting pastor there was a day when my wife and I had to do everything. I got accustomed to knowing exactly what was going on in every situation. As God has blessed and allowed others to come alongside it has been challenging for me to “keep my nose out” and let others do what the Lord wants them to do.

Yet, when I look at the example of Paul and Barnabas I am challenged. They went from place to place, and as they went they appointed elders. As a side note, from the very start there was an importance laid on the church being organised and having leaders.

How did they leave these believers in the hands of relative rookies? They prayed, they fasted, and they commended them to the Lord. Ultimately their faith was in the Lord -not in their own ability.

What a wonderful lesson for those of us who can be “control freaks.”

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Exhorting them to continue

“And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." - Act 14v21-22

Paul and Barnabas had a multi-faceted ministry. Not only were they proclaiming the gospel to the lost and seeing churches established, they also had a ministry to encourage believers.

As they travelled about the Bible says that they encouraged the believers. They strengthened them with these words, “Continue in the faith. Tribulations are just part of our path to the kingdom of God

Wanting to quit has always been a problem. It’s a problem for me on a regular basis. I really need to pay more attention to these first examples of servers.

What do we do when the trails, tribulations, testings, hard times, and struggles come?

Continue in the faith.

Preaches easy. Lives hard.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

He did good

"Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." - Act 14v15-17

First Paul and Barnabas face persecution and riots. From that that went to a place where the people tried to worship them as gods. Paul took immediate advantage of the situation and tried to dissuade the crowd with some amazing words about the true God. Instead of the useless things they were focusing on Paul said to turn to the true God who:

Is alive

Made heaven and earth

Made all that is in heaven and earth

Allowed nations to go on their way

Did good to all nations by giving rain and harvests and fills heart with food and gladness

I find it amazing that while God left man to his own devices, He did not leave man alone. Even while the world was rejecting Him, even at enmity with Him, He still did good for the world. He still provides rain and harvest. He still feeds and gives gladness.

What an amazing God. What an amazing love. Man goes on his own way and God keeps loving and providing.

Why would He do that? One reason and one reason only. God is love. God wants all men to come to repentance. He draws men by His love and provision. Praise God that He did good – even when the world went on without Him.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

And there were preaching the gospel there

“And they were preaching the gospel there.” - Act 14v7

“You can’t keep a good man down,” they say and there has never been a better example of this than Paul and Barnabas. The pattern became clear on their first missionary journey. They would go into a town and preach, there would be great interest, some would be saved, the Jews would get upset and lie about them, and they would be run out of town.

We have a hint of their attitude when in the middle of all this we read that they were “full of joy and of the Holy Spirit.” There were not about to be deterred. In fact it almost seems like they relished the opposition. When chased off to a new region we read the words, “and they were preaching the gospel there.” It was just a part of their fibre. It seems as much a part of their lives as breathing.

This kind of reading puts me to shame. This reading in Acts has really challenged my heart. I wonder how many of us have the same kind of fire and determination that Paul and Barnabas had. I wonder what would happen if we did?

Monday, 15 October 2007

The forgiveness of sins

“Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” - Act 13v38-39

I didn’t look back, but I think this is the first sermon by Paul recorded in the Bible. This must have been an amazing event. Paul was a Jewish theologian, a well trained Pharisee, and a persecutor of Christians. Now, of all things, he is preaching a gospel message. What a testimony to God’s grace and power!

His message reminds me a lot of Stephen’s before his stoning. He used the Old Testament to preach Christ. He pointed out that everything pointed to Christ. Then he laid it in their laps – whoever believes is justified and the law can justify no one. Forgiveness is only found in Christ.

It also reminds me of the fact that those who are delivered from the worst situations are the most thankful. All of his life he has tried to live by the law – as far as possible he did everything right. It is hard to even imagine the joy is his life when the impact of God’s grace really hit him.

And why nor? What a message – forgiveness of sins and justification by faith in Christ. Freedom from the law, freedom from works, freedom from slavery to a religious system.

Paul says that there is justification from all things. If this is true, and it is, than we can rejoice in the freedom from guilt for sins of he past. I am justified from ALL things! There is nothing left on my sin account for I have been declared justified before God!

Sunday, 14 October 2007

They sent them away

“Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.” - Acts 13v3

Apologies in advance for something of a personalised thought today. We have here at the start of chapter 13 the story of a church who saw their need to carry out the Great Commission, to carry the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. They did the right thing first of all; they prayed and fasted for direction. As they did so the Holy Spirit laid it on their hearts to set apart Barnabas and Saul to do the work He called them to do. The work He wanted them to do.

They then did something that has been carried on every since, and something we had the joy of experiencing – they laid hands on Saul and Barnabas and sent them away. We can often forget that these people had the same emotions that we had. I am sure it was hard for the church to send them away, but God’s word had to go out. Almost 2000 years later local churches are still doing the same. God works in people’s hearts and sets them apart, and then the local churches send them away to do the work.

My heart is touched and challenged by this thought. Back in Huntsville, Alabama there is a church which almost 13 years ago now did the same thing as the church at Antioch did. They entrusted us to be their arm to reach out to Ireland. Praise God for His pattern and for local churches who carry it out today!.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

But the word of God

“Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died. But the word of God grew and multiplied.” - Act 12v23-24

I can’t imagine a clearer Biblical picture to show the difference between following the ways of the world and the word of God. Herod hated the Christians – he had increased in popularity for his persecution of them and as his prestige grew so did his arrogance and pride.

The people of Tyre and Sidon were also on Herod’s persecution list, but they sued for peace because their food supplies had been cut off. They came to him and he planned a day to receive them. He gave a speech, and the people, perhaps in a effort to befriend him, lauded his words and not the words of a man, but the words of a God.

Foolishly Herod accepted their adulation. God immediately struck him dead and allowed his body to be consumed by some type of skin worms. Suddenly, the words of this “god” were silenced.

But, and I love how often that English word has such impact in the Bible, but, the word of God grew and multiplied. In one instant God revealed the difference between following Him and following the world. One brings destruction, either now or later. The other brings life and growth.

Why then are man’s words and his ways so important to us? Should not our lives instead reflect the only thing that gives real life, the precious word of God?

Friday, 12 October 2007

Are you mad??

“And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter's voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate.” - Act 12v13-14

I hope it is not an excuse for my lack of faith or immaturity, but I love it when we get to see the humanness of people in the Bible. The believers were so burdened for Peter and his imprisonment that they met together to pray for him to be released. While they were praying God worked a miracle and freed him, despite being chained to two guards and two more at the door.

Peter made his way to Mary’s house, where he knew the church was praying. He knocked at the door and Rhoda, a servant girl answered it and saw Peter there. Did she invite him in? No, a wanted man and jail-breaker was left standing at the door while she ran in to tell the prayer group. “Its Peter, he is at the door!” “Are you mad girl? Peter is in prison.” While Peter stood at the door they argued with Rhoda over whether Peter was really there or not! She finally convinced them to come to the gate and they were amazed, astounded, and confounded when they saw Peter. It looks like the stood there and got excited because Peter had to gesture to them to quiet down. The scene is almost comical – a bunch of Christians shocked and excited about seeing Peter and him, looking around, trying to get them to be quiet!

How amazing to see that God could do the impossible even while they prayed with less than perfect faith!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Constant Prayer

“Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.” - Act 12v5

Persecution for the early church seems to have come in stages. It was always there, but sometimes it got pretty severe and it is one of those times we see here. Herod lashed out with a fury when he had James killed. When he saw how happy that made the Jews he had Peter arrested, but had to postpone the execution until after a Jewish feast. In one fail swoop one of the church leaders was dead and the other on death row.

Not only was Peter on death row, but 16 soldiers were assigned to him so that four were always on duty. Two stood outside the sell door and two had themselves chained to Peter. They must have seen this preacher as a pretty serious threat!

“Now what do we do?” the rest of the church must have thought. This is an impossible situation. There is no way out of this one! We might as well just have a pity party and commiserate with each other. How do we face impossible situations today? Do we fret, worry, and get ulcers over it?

Lets see what they did. They made “constant prayer,” or “prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” as the King James Version puts it.

Either way, when the task was impossible they just prayed with consistency and fervency. The answer to an impossibility was prayer.

What impossibility do you face today? Is it any more impossible that being guarded by a rotation of 16 Romans guards with a death sentence on your head?

Maybe its time for “constant prayer”?

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Determined to send relief

“Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” - Act 11v29-30

This might seem like the perfect time to get into a discussion about spiritual gifts such as prophecy. After all, a prophet named Agabus foretold that a famine was coming to the whole land – and it happened! Sorry to disappoint, but we will leave that, perhaps for another time and place.

What I do want to note here is the response of the believers. Though the famine was through the whole land, the believers did more than just add the church in Judea to their Wednesday night prayer list. As they had the means they each contributed to a relief fund and sent the money with Paul and Barnabas. There is a lot we cold talk about here, such as the fact that the money was sent to the pastors for distribution, but the key point is that when a need arose something tangible was done about it. It wasn’t just a prayer and pat on the back, but money was raised to help out another part of the body of Christ.

I wonder how often we know of a need and placate our consciences with a quick word of prayer?

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

They were first called Christians

“And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” Act 11v26

The early believers were called a few things in the early days. They were called “Galileans” and “Nazarenes” because they followed the Galilean or the Nazarene. Nazarene would be a derisive title because of the saying, “can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” In one place Luke referred to them as “the Way.” So, what to call this group?

In Antioch a new name appeared. It was here that they were first called Christian. Antioch had a large Greek population so they had no problem using the name for Messiah that no Jews would have used. Perhaps it was used in derision. Perhaps it was just a description. There is some indication that it may have been a name they accepted and adopted. Either way, the new name stuck.

:”Christianos” is a simple word. It just means “follower of Christ,: or “of the party of Christ.” It is an appellation which remains today. The question is though, “Does it fit?” Does the name Christian describe my life? Do the words I speak, the places I go, the spirit I manifest, the attitude I take toward others, my responses to challenges, or the way I treat people reflect that fact that I am of His party?

Things we are called are not always

Monday, 8 October 2007

Cleave to the Lord

“When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.” - Act 11v23

Barnabas is known as the encourager or the exhorter. His role in the church seems to be to go from place to place encouraging the believers. Here the church at Antioch had just begun to grow and were seeing people, including Gentiles, get saved. Barnabas went to them and gave them some simple words of advice.

“Purpose in your heart to continue with the Lord,” he said. Even though the word has almost lost its old meaning I personally like the old King James term “cleave.” To me it just sounds like really, really sticking to something. Now, that may be because I grew up with ideas like, “A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife.”

Anyway, back to topic. Barnabas told them to purpose ahead of time to stick close to God. That decision cannot be put off until we face a crisis. We must know in advance that we are simply going to stick to God when the struggles come. There is a saying, “Those who fail to plan plan to fail.,” and this is certainly true when it comes to our walk with the Lord. If we don’t plan and commit in advance that we are going to stick to Him than when the tough times come we are not going to “stick it.”

If we are going to walk with the Lord we must, absolutely, take the advice and by the grace of God determine before hand that we are going to “keep on keeping on” with the Lord. Not being a Greek scholar I am not sure how accurate it is, but I really like the way Wycliffe put in his translation way back in the 14th century – “…admonished all men in purpose of heart to dwell in the Lord.”

Have you already decided that now matter what comes your way you are going to dwell in the Lord?

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Who was I that I could withstand God?

“If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?" - Acts 11v17

I wish I could count the number of time I have looked at my life and wondered if God’s way could possibly the right way. Over and over again my way has seemed better than His way. I remember a couple of specific times in the past when I just could not make sense of what God was doing and actually had the cheek to tell Him about it!

I think Peter might have identified with those feelings. The Jews did not like the Gentiles. Gentiles were filthy, ungodly things with which no proper Jew would do any business. Then Peter had the vision of the animals in the sheet and encountered Cornelius and saw him and other Gentiles get saved. He quickly realised that his ways and God’s ways were not the same.

When he got back to the rest of the church in Jerusalem they were critical of him for having dealings with the Gentiles. He then told them what had happened. At the end he asked a very probing and relevant question, “Who was I that I could withstand God?”

None of us like to think that we would ever withstand God, but what are we doing when God is doing things one way and we want to do them another? What about when we just can’t see in our own minds what God is doing? God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not the same as ours. His are as much higher as the heavens are above the earth.

Indeed, who are you and I to withstand God?

Saturday, 6 October 2007

In every nation

“Then Peter opened his mouth and said: "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ He is Lord of all” - Acts 10v34-36

There is a point in the early sections of Acts that is abundantly clear. It is something that God has driven home to me day after day in the last week or so. It is something that seems so simple, and something that we probably know deep down, but, at least in my case, doesn’t often enough impact my daily life.

God shows no partiality. He will accept anyone in any nation who will fear Him and whose fear is seen by doing works of righteousness. The message of peace that began to be preached to the Jews is now available to every nation and every person. In other words, God’s peace is for everyone. That means everyone person I meet every day is a potential recipient of His peace.

There is a whole world in a desperate search for peace. In every nation, whoever, that means whoever, that fears Him will be accepted. From the most famous and important in the eyes of the world to those looked on with the most contempt everyone can be saved. From an important official to an unclean tanner - God cares for all.

My shame comes from the fact that I don’t seem to keep this in view in my everyday life. Too often I see people with “eyes of flesh” instead of seeing them the way God does.

Sometimes we have “target groups” or key people that we think would be the best ones to get saved. There is no best one to get saved, God shows no partiality – lets be sure that we are not partial when we preach peace.

Friday, 5 October 2007

What God has cleansed

And a voice spoke to him again the second time, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’” - Acts 10v15

I often feel sorry for Peter. I can’t imagine his shock when God gave him a vision of unclean animals and told him to eat them. As a devout Jew I would imagine that he even felt a physical aversion to the though of eating “unclean” or “common” foods that only the Gentiles would eat.

God made it clear though that because of Christ that which had been seen as unclean was now clean. Obviously, the primary meaning was that the dietary restrictions had been lifted. It spread further than that in that the Gentiles were also no longer unclean.

I think it goes a step farther than that. It seems like some of us have a practice of declaring things unclean that God never calls unclean. We too often refuse to do some things or go some places, not because they are sin, but we have somehow set up human standards of behaviour that have no basis in the scriptures.

Lets be careful that we make sure to follow God’s standards of cleanness, not our own.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Simon and Simon

“So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner.” - Acts 9v43

Do you remember the 80’s television show “Simon and Simon”? Well, maybe not, but here in Acts chapter nine the Bible gives us our own version of “Simon and Simon.”

If we know the rest of Acts we know what is going on here, God is getting ready to expand the church outside of Judaism to the “uttermost parts of the earth.” He starts this by sending Simon Peter to stay in the house of Simon the Tanner. Here I have to give credit to John Macarthur for his note that reminded me that dealing with dead bodies was frowned among by the Jews and was considered an unclean trade. No proper Jew would spend his time with a tanner, but Peter went and dwelt in Simons home.

There is a temptation sometimes for us to see some parts of society as unclean and unapproachable. In God’s eyes there is no one too low, or too high to hear the gospel. Are few days ago we considered the story of Philip and the eunuch. Now we see Peter with an unclean tradesman.

God is no respecter of a persons place in society. From the highest to the lowest and the “cleanest to the uncleanest” He cares for all.

Look around. Are there any Simon the tanners that we are overlooking because of they place in society?

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

They were multiplied

“Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.” - Acts 9v31

Church growth seems to be a major part of what church is all about. There are plenty of resources, as mentioned here previously, on how to grow your church. It seems in some circles that there is almost an attitude of “anything goes” when it comes to seeing your church grow. Not all of this is bad. We cannot minister in the exact same way as the 1st century church.

However, we do well not to focus on sermons, seminars, and speeches on church growth unless they send our thoughts back to the early church. We learned earlier that they grew because of persecution. It appears from the idea of “being at peace” and from the time period that the persecution had slowed a bit. Even now the church was multiplying.

What lessons can we learn? I think there are a couple of things. The passage says that they were edified for one thing. Instead of dividing and tearing down they were united and edifying – building each other up. Part of the pattern for the church to grow is mutual edification. Instead of finding ways to tear down the church must look for ways to build it up.

Two more things the church did. They walked in the fear of the Lord and comfort of the Holy Spirit. The fear of the Lord tells us that they walked in holiness. Their lives were lived in respect of who God is. They didn’t need man-made standards; they simply lived in the light of who they worshipped.

They walked in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. When things got tough they found comfort in Him. He is, after all, the great comforter. What better place to find comfort than in His constantly abiding presence?

Edification, the fear of the Lord, the comfort of the Holy Spirit. How simple that all sounds. Why is it so hard for us to “get it”?

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

But Barnabas

“But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” - Acts 9v27

Those of us who live in freedom today can hardly imagine what it was like for the infant church. They were new, they had no history to look back on, and even the New Testament was not complete. From their inception they had faced nothing from the world but persecution.

No wonder they were a bit leery when Saul came to Jerusalem to join with them. They, after all, had seen him at Stephen’s funeral holding the cloaks of those doing the stoning. They all knew who Saul was and probably recognised him on sight. It was a tough think to welcome him in. Perhaps he was a plant by the authorities.

An act of great faith and courage took place. Everyone was afraid, but Barnabas was willing to step forward and speak up for Saul. God is sovereign and the “what ifs” of history are indeed vanity. But still, what if Barnabas had not stood up for Saul? What if he had been rejected? Where would we be today.

Praise God for the little words, “but Barnabas”. Are they times and places in my life that were just waiting for a, “but Roger”?

Monday, 1 October 2007

Proving that Jesus is the Christ

“But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” - Acts 9v22

I guess one of the reasons I enjoy Acts so much is because of my history as a history teacher and a love for history. In my mind history is all about examples, patterns, and the lessons we can learn from them, both positive and negative.

Saul is one such example. After his salvation he had a meal, and then he got busy. He didn’t hang around and wait for support, he didn’t wait for training in His new faith, he just got busy. Of course there are dangers in doing so, but you have to admire his faith, boldness, and courage! The Bible says that he immediately preached Christ in the synagogue. Surely he knew the dangers; he had only shortly before been on his way to arrest those who did the same.

Obviously everyone was astounded, but Saul just got stronger and stronger. The Jews were confused and confounded by his teaching. It sounds like he made them question everything they had believed. Who better to prove that Jesus was the Christ than an Old Testament scholar? You have to wonder if he had not already been battling this in his mind since he was so ready to preach Jesus.

We are not privy to all that happened there, but we do know one thing – Saul got busy telling folks about Jesus the Messiah and Son of God. He knew he had everything to lose, yet he was about the task.

What are those of us who live in the freedom of the west going to lose if we follow his example? Let’s be totally honest – our price is tiny compared to the price Saul knew he might have to pay.