Thursday, 31 January 2013

Separate Barnabas and Saul

As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.  – Acts 13.2-3

Saul and Barnabas returned from a trip to Jerusalem. The brought John Mark with them and came back to the church in Antioch.

Gods work was expanding. The church was Anticoh was growing. They had a group of preachers there: Barnabas, Simon, Lucius, Manaen (who by the way, had been raised with Herod, and Saul. As these men served and ministered and prayed the Holy Spirit directed the church to 'separate Saul and Barnabas to she work God called them to do. God's work was for them to go preach the gospel and start churches.

This is just, the start of their great missionary partnership. Even though I believe God has called us and put us where we are I don't fully understand how this 'call' works, but I do know that God still calls and still directs local churches to separate their people to ministry outside their church.

God set a pattern for service early on. God calls people to do His, the church rallies behind them, fasts and prays, and sends them out. Its really pretty simple. Its too bad we tend to complicate it so much. 

Praise God for His diving plan to send His servants. 

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

But the word of God grew

But the word of God grew and multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark. – Acts 12.24-25

The persecution under Herod was pretty intense. But Herod made a big mistake. He let the power to to his head and opposition grew. Not only that, God was taking care of His church.

Just before what we read here Herod went too far. Tyre and Sidon had been enemies, but they had sued for peace and Herod was elated. He came out to address the people at the peak of his popularity. As we dressed himself in His kingly robes and started to speak the crowd started shouting 'this is the voice of a god, and not of a man!'

Herod liked it and did not even to give glory to God. Instead he accepted the adulation.

When he did tragedy struck. He died an ugly death.

So Herod was dead, that threat was gone. But the word of God grew and multiplied.

Jesus told us that the word of God would endure forever. He told us that the gates of hell could not prevail over His church.

Two thousand years hence the enemies of God have come and gone.  Two thousand years hence the word of God still grows and multiplies. 

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Rhoda and answered prayer

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. – Acts 12.13-14

This is one of my favourite parts of the book of Acts. We already know that the church was meeting to pray without ceasing for Peter's release from prison. As they were praying on the night before Herod was going to bring Peter out to the people something strange happened.

Peter was chained to two groups of soldiers when an angel struck him on the side, told him tout his sandals and robe on, and follow him.  Peter didn't know if it was an angel or a dream, but he decided to follow the angel as they walked past both sets of guard and watched the prison doors open on their own. Suddenly Peter found himself outside the prison and free! It wasn't a dream, God had truly sent an angel to deliver him.

Peter made his way to the home where the church was meeting and knocked at the door. A girl named Rhoda answered, heard Peter, and was so excited she ran back to the praying group, leaving Peter locked outside!

It gets worse.  When she told the assembled believers what had happened they thought she was crazy. They figured Peter was dead by now and it was his ghost at the gate.

Meanwhile Peter is still knocking at the gate.

Finally it is all resolved (you have to read Acts 12 to get the whole account. It is brilliant, especially when they come to let Peter in!)

So what do we get from this?

I think we see an example of the power of prayer even when we are not totally convinced that it is going to ‘work.’

My encouragement for the day? Pray without ceasing and trust that God really is going to work. 

Monday, 28 January 2013

Without ceasing

Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.  – Acts 12.5

Things were bad – really bad. King Herod decided that it was time to put an end to this new movement so he decided to ‘vex’ them as the old King James translation puts it. He thought he could harass and trouble them enough they would surely give up and go back to their homes and forget all about this new teaching. Rome would be happy, the Jews would be happy, and chances are he would get a transfer from this horrible posting in the middle of nowhere.

So he had the apostle James executed. The people liked that so he next had Peter arrested and thrown in jail with every intention of dealing with him after the Passover.

There was not a whole lot the believers could do, but there was one thing. ‘Constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.’ The people prayed without ceasing.

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the story, but just want to mention this idea of ‘praying without ceasing.’ In this case it looks like the believers met together to pray for Peter and were not going to stop until they saw an answer.

While it is very literal in this case and there may very well be cases where we out to well to meet for this kind of unstopping prayer I think it goes further than that.

Jesus once told the disciples ‘Men ought always to pray and not to faint.’
Paul later wrote to the Thessalonian church that they should ‘pray without ceasing.’

I think the point is pretty clear. When we have things to pray about they ought to be a priority. We have so much going on sometimes that while we set out to pray with all the best intentions we can easily get distracted and move on to something else.

Praying is a serious matter. When people ask us to prayer it is far too easy to write down their request (or even worse depend on our memory to remind us), leave the room, and forget about it till the next time we hear the request.

I know my prayer life falls far short of this target of ceaseless prayer. I am grateful for the pattern of this early church prayer meeting. May I not just be blessed by their example, but begin to apply it to my life.  

Sunday, 27 January 2013

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. – Acts 11.29-30

At this stage of the church there were not only preaching prophets, but prophets to whom the Holy Spirit gave the ability to know the future. One of these prophets warned that there was a great famine coming.

The disciples knew that there was going to be a real need in the church. They knew that people would starve to death if they didn't do something about it.  

So they did the right thing. They took up offerings, each giving according to what they could do, and the sent relief to those who were going to need it by the hands of Saul and Barnabas.

Okay, they may not sound like much. Those who had gave what they had to make sure that those who didn't have would have enough in the coming famine.

So how do we apply that?

It seems to be that there was a great lever of equality in the early church. They wouldn't hear of some doing without while others had plenty. They was no way that some would lack while other had an over-abundance.

Somehow we are missing that today. While in some parts of the world the church meets in poverty and squalor in other part of the world the church meets in prosperity and splendour. In some parts of the world the church meets in shacks and hovel and other parts of the world the church meets is palatial splendour. In some part of the world churches don’t have indoor plumbing while in other parts of the world churches have gold plated fixtures in their indoor facilities. In some parts of the world churches meet in the glow of oil lamps while in other parts of the world the church meets under crystal chandeliers.

Something is seriously broken here. Maybe it is time we learn a lesson in ‘sending relief.’ 

Saturday, 26 January 2013


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. – Acts 11.26

Barnabas was a good man, full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. Everything we read about him backs that up. The verse before that says exactly that.

I like the simple words that say 'Barnabas was a good man.' I would be happy if that were something that could be said about me. I don't aspire after greatness or fame. I would love if it could be said that 'Roger is a good man.'

But, alas, that is not the point of today's thoughts. Saul and Barnabas spent a year in Antioch and taught a great number of people. What a blessed year that must have been. Then we read this:

'And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. '

I have always heard that this was originally a term of ridicule or derision. I am not so sure why people say that. The people of Antioch referred to the disciples as 'Christian' much as we would say 'Irishman, or Englishman, or American' today. It was simply a term of identification. The Jews called the early believers as 'Nazarenes' because they followed 'the Nazarene.' That was indeed a term of derision because of the old saying 'can any good thing come out of Nazareth?'

No matter how we got the name centuries have rolled on and the name 'Christian' is the one that we have adopted. We have all kinds of labels and denominations and appellations, but the only one that really matters is the one given to the believers in Antioch.

Germans are associated with Germany. The French are associated with France, and so it goes for nation after nation.

In the same way Christian ought to identify us only with Christ. When I call myself Christian and people see that way I live, do I do a proper job of reflecting that Name? 

Friday, 25 January 2013

Stick with The Lord

Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God,was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleaveunto the Lord.. – Acts 11.23

I chose the old King James translation today for a reason. Irealise that we don't speak 17th century English today. I realise that we don'tuse all of those old words. But I like the phrase 'cleave to the Lord' in thisverse.

The disciples were now free to preach the gospel to anyone.A few of them travelled to Antioch where a bunch of Greeks lived and they preached thegospel to them. God was with them and a great number of them were saved. When theygot saved Barnabas was sent on a follow up mission.

When he preached he pleaded with the new believers to ‘withpurpose of heart’ or with a determination, they would ‘cleave to the Lord.’

I like words. Cleave is interesting because for a good partof English history it had two opposite meanings. One use was the spilt apart;the other meant to stick to with permanence.

The modern versions all use something like ‘continue’ withthe Lord here. I am sure that is a fine translation and was probably chosenbecause today almost no one uses ‘cleave’ to mean ‘stick to.’

But I like the idea of cleave and it’s ‘stick to’ meaning.When Barnabas preached to these believers he urged them to prioritise ‘stickingto’ the Lord.

I think we need a good dose of sticking to the Lord as we gothrough life. When things are going great just stick to the Lord and don’twander off. When things are just kind of coasting along, just keep sticking.When the storms of life come our way and try to tear us apart hold on tight andstick to the Lord.

Just stick. 

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Who am I?

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 11.17

Sometimes the things God does don’t make any sense to us. Of course we can never understand Him completely because He is God and we are not. Peter was recounting all that had happened between him and Cornelius and the Gentiles. No one of those Jews could have imagine that the God of Israel would ever reach out to anyone but the Jews.

But God had a greater plan. As we saw yesterday God broke down all the human boundaries. Peter may not have understood it all, but he had the right attitude. 'If God wants to include the Gentiles who am I to try and withstand God?

I don’t have a whole lot to say here. I am never going to understand all that God does. I can’t see the whole picture. All I can see is my specific place and my specific time and my specific circumstance. God sees it all. He knows how every little piece fits into the puzzle.

So who am I to withstand Him? 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. – Acts 10.1-2ff

All of Acts 10 deals with a man named Cornelius and the opening of the gospel to the Gentiles.

The first things we hear about Cornelius are all good. He was a Roman soldier, an officer from Italy itself.  He was an an uncircumcised proselyte to the Jewish faith. He feared God Along with his family. He was devout. He gave alms.He prayed faithfully.

As the chapter goes on it describes how Cornelius received a vision from God telling him to go to Joppa to find Peter, who was praying. While Cornelius is making his way there Peter also had a vision. In his vision a great sheet is let down filled with all kinds of animals, some of them unclean in the Law.

God told Peter to eat, and Peter said that he couldn't eat the unclean animals. God told him that he was indeed free to eat because if He had made it holy, it was indeed holy.

Right after this Cornelius arrives and he and Peter meet for dinner. This troubled the people present because they knew, in their own minds at least, that a proper Jew should not have dealing with an uncircumcised man.

Peter arose and countered that fear. He said that God had shown him that no man is common or unclean.

Peter continued: “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.’

I think there is a lesson here for us. God does not show partiality. There are no special nations to God. ‘In every nation, whoever fears God and works righteousness is accepted.’

It comes down to this, and old children’s song. ‘Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.’

Praise God He doesn’t rank people by their skin colour,national origin, or anything but their relationship with Him. 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013



And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.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 9.26,27

I cannot even imagine what it was like to be a part of the church in those days and find out that Saul was coming to preach. The Saul they knew was out to do all he could to wipe out the church, but now he wanted to join with the disciples. Imagine just for a moment what it must have been like to be a Christian and to hear that Saul was coming to meet your church. Since most of us are not nunder persecution I dont know if we can even draw an illustration that might helpus understand how it felt. The Bible tells us that the church was afraid when Saul tried to join them. They did not believe that he was truly a disciple.

Saul certainly needed someone to come alongside and stand for him. That man was Barnanbas

In this passage we get our first hint of the kind of man Barnabas was. His name means 'comforter' (Son of Consolation or Encouragement) and from the very start we see that his name matches his character.

Barnabas appeared earlier in Acts when the couple had lied to the Holy Spirit about the profit they had made from the sale of some land. In that case he was dealing with sin, but now he appears and shows his encouragement to someone who needed it.

When the time came to stand up for Saul Barnabas proved he had great faith and courage. He had the faith to trust that God would take care of him and the believers. He trusted God’s working in Saul’s heart, He told the believers about the Damascus Road experience and about Saul’s faithful preaching of the gospel.

As a result of Barnabas’ act of faith Saul joined with the church and boldly proclaimed the gospel.

And the church?

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.

And it was all because Barnabas was willing to take a stand alongside his new Brother Saul.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Brother Saul

And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." – Acts 9.17

Poor Saul must have been in quite a state. Until recently he was bold and confident and zealous about doing what he saw as God’s work – wiping out The Way.

But now he was part of The Way and on the way to heaven. What is he supposed to do next?

God graciously spoke to a disciple named Ananias. God told Ananias to go talk to Saul. Ananias was petrified. ‘Lord, I've heard about this guy! I know all the evil he has done to the saints.’

‘Go anyway,’ God said 'he is the one I have chosen to preach Jew and Gentiles and kings.’

If anybody ever had to cause to say ‘are you sure God?’ it was Ananias. But he went anyway.

And when he saw him his first words were ‘Brother Saul.’

Ananias is one of those forgotten saints. We don’t think about him much. But he is a hero of the faith. He had the courage to walk up a great enemy of the church and say ‘Brother Saul.’ I hope that I would have that kind of courage.

And what was the first thing Brother Saul did? 'Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.'

Sunday, 20 January 2013

What do you want me to do?

So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." – Acts 9.6

If we look back to Romans 8 we find a bystander at Stephen's martyrdom. A man named Saul was there holding the cloaks of the stoners. Saul was moving up in the ranks as a Pharisee. He apparently was already well known. By the time we get to Romans 9 Saul is persecuting and killing believers and his on his way to Damascus to ferret out those of 'the Way' there to arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem.

But on the way there something happened to Saul. God reached down from heaven to get Saul's attention. a light shone and Saul was knocked the ground and he heard a voice - 'Saul, why are you persecuting me?'

'Who are you Lord?'

'I am Jesus who, you are persecuting. You are wasting your time trying to stop me.' (Pardon my parrowphrase there)

What a wake up call. Saul knew he was trying to shut up those of The Way who were following Jesus the Nazerene. Jesus told him here that he was kicking against the goads and the harder he kicked the more he hurt himself.'

So Saul, the last person that you might imagine getting saved, said ‘Lord, what do you want me to do.’ Now ‘Lord’ was a general term of respect. The first time Saul said it he was being polite. The second time he used it he knew who he was talking to and still called Him Lord. He was submitting to the leadership of the one he had been fighting against.

We don’t know exactly when Saul got saved, but this was the point when his heart changed. He decided to quit ‘kicking against the goads’ and submit to Christ’s leadership.

That ought to give us great hope. No one is beyond the gospel. No one is a hopeless case.

That truth should motivate us to never give up, but to pray and share more earnestly than ever.

If Saul can find Jesus anyone can. 

Saturday, 19 January 2013

He went on his way

Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. – Acts 8.39

What a great encounter. Two men meet in the Gaza desert. One of them is an official in a royal court, the other a simple believer. One is looking for an answer and the other one has the answer. One needs Jesus, the other has Jesus.

But God put them together. It is the ultimate example of what some call a 'divine appointment.' Philip preached about Jesus. The man from Ethiopia got saddled and then baptised. When they came up from the baptism the Spirit carried Philip away and when the Ethiopian realised that he was gone he 'went on his way rejoicing.'

We don’t know for sure what happened after this. We do know however that there have been Christians in the Ethiopian region since the very early days. Most church historians tell us that the first century believers there are a direct result of this one man’s conversion.

The great truth is that this man left the encounter rejoicing that he had met Jesus. Many of us revel in the joy of our salvation. We have to ask ourselves if we are really willing to share that joy with others.

And you knows what the long term result might be? 

Friday, 18 January 2013

He preached Jesus

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. – Acts 8.35

When Philip approached the chariot he found the eunuch reading from Isaiah 53. 'Do you know what you are reading?' Philip asked the man. 'How am I supposed to understand this unless someone teaches me?' the eunuch replied.

So Philip opened his mouth...and beginning there in Isaiah 53...he preached Jesus to the eunuch.'

Think about what he didn't preach. He didn't preach about the Law. He didn't preach about the difference between Judaism and Christianity  He didn't talk about any Ethiopian religions and try to reason through that. He just preached Jesus.

And what a passage to start with!

“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.

In His humiliation His justice was taken away,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth. "

Philip didn't mess around. He drove right to the point. He told how the ‘lamb led to the slaughter’ was Jesus. That verse speaks of Jesus’ willing sacrifice. Philip told the eunuch that Jesus died for His sins.

And we know from the following verses that the eunuch was saved.

My problem is that when I talk to someone, with every intention to share Christ, I get distracted with all the pleasantries, I far too often get distracted and never get around to the meat of the issue. I miss the chance to preach Jesus.

With all of the books and seminars and webinars and websites and all of that to tell us how to be a witness might we be better off just to do what Philip did? Might we be better off to just start where they are and preach Jesus? 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Get up and go...and Philip ran to him

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert...So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" – Acts 8.26,30

There are a lot of great lessons in the book of Acts. Although this is a book of transition and we should not build doctrine solely on the book of Acts there is still much to learn here. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is an example of that kind of lesson.

The story picks up after Peter and John have returned to Jerusalem preaching the gospel in Samaria. Suddenly the Holy Spirit instructs Philip to got to Gaza. He simply says ‘get up and go.’ So Philip got up and went.

I love that kind of obedience. It challenges my heart. God said go and he went.

But there is more to it than just that.

God sent Philip down to Gaza not for a crowd or a multitude, but one person. An Ethiopian eunuch was all alone in a chariot reading from the scroll of Isaiah. God sent Philip out into the desert to reach one man with the gospel – one. It reminds me of the parable of the shepherd and the one lost sheep and challenges me to see the importance of each and every individual.

But then as Philip got close the Spirit said to go to him, and Philip ran to the chariot.

He ran. He didn't try to delay. He didn't try to find excuses. He ran to the man to share the gospel.

I love the fervency and sense of purpose. But at the same time I am challenged. When was the last time I ran to someone to share the gospel with them? When was the last time I had that kind of sense of purpose?

Oh if we could all just have the heart of Philip, obeying God, seeing the importance of each individual,a nd rushing out to share the message. 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Preaching in Samaria

So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.  - Acts 8.25

Peter and John were very busy preaching the gospel from city to city. They were seeing people saved and clearing up a a lot of misunderstanding. A man named Simon had wanted to capitalise on the gospel but had eventually come to see his need of Christ.

Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, but on the way they preached. And notice where they preached - 'in many villages of the Samaritans.'

When we read this we need to remember the relationship that the Jews had with the Samaritans. They were, if not enemies, at least uncomfortable rivals. Even speaking to Samaritans was looked down upon, but Peter and John were there when Jesus scandalised them by talking to the Samaritan prostitute at the well.

Bias, racism, prejudice, and discrimination are ugly truths. I had a great Twitter discussion with an atheist friend last night. Part of the thread was about laws that try stop discrimination. My friend presented the thought that anti-discrimination laws might prevent extremist societies. I am not so sure and tweeted that I think man will always find a way to discriminate and that we have a rotten track record on our side. I don't think laws will ever stop it. Something inside has to change before laws can work.

Something inside overcame the racist thoughts of these two Jews. Something made them care about the Samaritans. In this case it was Jesus. He could have taken the easy way to the north a couple of years earlier, but he 'had to' got through Samaria and talk that prostitute in the heat of midday to offer her everlasting water. When disciples saw that it broke down that barrier against the Samaritans and sent them back there to preach the gospel.

Jesus is no ‘respecter of persons.’ All are the same in His sight. How tragic it is when Christians allow barriers of prejudice and hatred to cloud their view of the world. Peter and John went right into ‘enemy territory’ to a people they were supposed to hate, and shared with them the news that God loved them and Jesus died for them.

The love of Christ is the ultimate answer to hatred and prejudice. May we let it work in our lives. 

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

They were all scattered

Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. – Acts 8.1

While we tend to shy away from persecution and trials there are a lot of positive things that can happen through it if God's people are willing to let God use them.

If we look back to the attempt by Pharaoh to wipe out the Jews we remember that 'the more they afflicted them the more they multiplied and grew.' Earlier is acts we read that as the persecution increased the numbers of new Christians grew. We now read about another mass persecution and the uninterested consequences it brought.

We know from Acts 1.8 that God intended for the gospel to spread far beyond Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. I don’t know whether these folks were holding back and needed a little encouragement or not, but God found a way to get them on their way.

We never know what God has planned when things don’t go the way we think they should. I doubt that very many of our brethren saw Nero’s persecution as a good thing, but God had something in store through it.

God is always at work. Instead of worrying so much about how the world is turning against God’s people, maybe we need to concentrate on using seeing this as further opportunities to share the gospel. 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Forgive them

And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep. – Acts 7.59-60

Eventually someone was going to pay the ultimate price for their faith in Christ and for proclaiming His name. As far as we know Stephen was the first to pay that price.

Being a martyr might sound all glorious and great and all that, but to be honest it would be scary. I am not so sure that I am cut out to be a martyr. I would hope and pray that I would have the faith and trust to do it, but I guess I can't know unless I am called on to die for my faith.

Stephen was called on to do so and he gave us the perfect pattern of what a martyr should be like.

The words of the song we saw yesterday continue:

'As the stones fell on him beating out his life
Stephen knew he'd soon be through with all toil and strife
So much like the Master with a heart so true
He prayed Lord forgive them for they know not what they do.

Through the gates of glory down the streets of gold
March the hero on the Lord into heaven's fold
When he met the Saviour at the great white throne
I believed he smiled and said Stephen welcome home.

I see Jesus standing at the father's right end
I see Jesus over in the Promised Land
Work is over now I'm coming to be
I see Jesus standing waiting for me.’

Just like Jesus Stephen focused on those people throwing the stones that would kill him. 'Lord, forgive them. Don't hold this against them.

As part of our church series on the life and ministry of Christ I preached on 'The Loving Christ' yesterday. One of the things that really stuck out to me is how Jesus loved His enemies and how He challenged us to do the same.

Stephen is a perfect example of the kind of love that Jesus showed for His enemies and that His followers are to show to their enemies. We can get angry and upset and even vengeful for far less that our being stoned to death.

May God give each of us a Stephen-like capacity to love others, including those who are ‘out to get us.’ 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

I see Jesus

But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" – Acts 7.56

Whenever I see this verse my mind goes back about 35 years when Mary and I were at Tennessee Temple University. I don’t know if Ron Comfort still sings when he is conducting revivals, but he did back then. I can still hear that unique voice of his singing:

‘Once a man named Stephen preached about the Lord
Folks were saved then folks were healed as they heard his word
Satan did not like it soon he had his crowd
And as he was tried they heard Stephen cried aloud.

I see Jesus standing at the father's right end
I see Jesus over in the Promised Land
Work is over now I'm coming to be
I see Jesus standing waiting for me.'

I was still a young Christian when I first heard this song. I think it inspired me to first study the story of Stephen's stoning. I didn't realise then just what it meant that Stephen saw the heavens opened and Jesus at God's right hand. Stephen did not focus on the stones raining down on His head. He could have, but he chose to look heaven to the Author and Finisher of His faith.

This is why Stephen had the face of an angel. He was ignoring the present, the stones falling down on him, and the ridicule of the crowd. Instead he was looking heavenward into the face of Jesus.

Lord, give me a Stephen-like heart that choose to see You high and lifted up no matter what is going on here. 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The face of an angel

And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel. – Acts 6.15

Things were not going well for Stephen. The council could not answer him and they could not deal with his wisdom and spirit. They could not handle him in debate. So they fabricated a story that he had said Jesus was going to come back and destroy their whole Jewish system.

I wonder how I would respond to that kind of accusation. I wonder what anyone seeing me in that situation would have seen on my face. Would they have seen fear? Would they have seen fear?

What would I have felt? Would I have wondered what I was going to do to get out of this problem? Would I have been considering shutting up or compromising?

I don't know. I hope I would not have considered those things. I hope people would have seen a sensed a determination and a resolution in my soul.

One thing I can't imagine me feeling is a settledness and peace in my soul. I just can't imagine people seeing a face at peace.

But look what the people saw when they saw Stephen's face. 'They looked steadfastly at him, and they saw his face as the face of an angel.'

Wouldn't you love to have that kind of a testimony? Stephen's countenance reflects an inner peace and settledness that is astounding. He knew this council had the authority to kill him, and yet he had no worry or concern on his face.

Why? Because he knew the reality of what we now have in Philippians 4. ‘Don’t be full of care, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God that passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’

That kind of peace brings the kind of countenance that produces as face like an angel. My problems and trails and challenges are nothing like what Stephen faced, but my countenance is rarely angel-like.  May God give me the faith to have that kind of inner spirit that is reflected on the outside. 

Friday, 11 January 2013

And Stephen

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. – Acts 6.8-10

I like to read history and I really enjoy historical biographies. Even though it is brief I enjoy reading the biography of Stephen. He kind of pops up out of nowhere and jumps into the Biblical 'headlines.' He is quite and example and quite a challenge to the modern believer.

Stephen, as we are going to see in the next couple of days, was a man of great faith and courage. He may be the first church hero. Though not one of the apostles he stepped out and was noted because he was 'full of faith and power' and because he did 'great signs and wonders among the people.'  A group calls the Synagogue of the Freedmen rose up against them. There members were a diverse group from several regions. These men, from all over the area, tried to dispute with Stephen. But they could not resist Stephen's wisdom and his Spirit.

We look at superstars like Stephen and we think we could never be like that. We think that a somehow Stephen had strengths and abilities that we don't have.

Maybe he did have more natural abilities than some of us, but I think the key here is his yieldedness. I get that idea because the first thing we read is that he was full of faith. All the rest is contingent on that. Without faith our natural abilities are worthless and meaningless. He had no spiritual power of his own – God is the only source of power. He boldly stood and discussed matters with this ‘Synagogue of the Freedmen’ and more than held his own. Why could they not answer him? Because he has wisdom (I suspect from on high because of the next phrase) and they could not resist the Holy Spirit working in him.

Oh for a heart and testimony like Stephen’s. I don’t know about having such a thing as a ‘Bible hero,’ but if there is such a thing Stephen might be a good candidate. 

Thursday, 10 January 2013

A great many priests

Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. – Acts 6.7

Sometimes we can be tempted to think that there are some folks who are just not going to be saved. We think we can put God in a little box and determine who we think will or will not be saved.

At the top of the list of the 'unsaveable' might be religious leaders who don't know Christ. These priests were some of the first opponents of the church. Many of them would have remembered Jesus. Some may have sat on the councils that condemned Jesus or tried to shut up the apostles.

But we read here in Acts 6.7 that ‘that the number of disciples multiplied greatly, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.’

The first part alone would be a great cause for encouragement and hope, but the second part is quite amazing. Did you catch it? ‘A great many priests were obedient to the faith.’

I like this because it reminds me that no one is beyond the scope of salvation. Even the most religious, dedicated, and set in their ways can come to Christ. These priests were dedicated to the old way. The Law was their life and Jesus really shook things up. And yet they still came to Christ.

This gives us hope today that no one is beyond the reach of the gospel. Even the most religious of people dedicated to their customs and traditions and way of life can still be saved. Let us not limit our witness to those only those we think can be saved but realize that God can reach anyone! 

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

They were counted worthy…and did not quit

And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. – Acts 5.41-42

We live in a world of whingers and complainers and criers and moaners. I know because I are one.

I don’t like it when things don’t go my way. I don’t like it when people don’t like me. I don’t like it when people don’t listen to me. I don’t like it when people mock my beliefs or make fun of me because I am a Christian. I don’t like it when people call me names.

But when I read about these early apostles, and when I read about those persecuted through the years, and I read about those suffering persecution today I am shamed at my selfishness.

These guys just didn't stop. They preached in the temple and they preached in people's homes.

And while they were doing this, instead of complaint about how bad they had it they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer for Christ.

The church in the free and nonpersecuted west, including me, hates the thought of suffering. I don't want to suffer. Sometimes we can hate the idea of suffering so much that we can become focused on making sure that our liberties and freedoms and rights are not attacked.

Suffering for Christ is not something to be dreaded. It is something to be treasured. Are we worthy to suffer shame for His name? Are we so afraid of suffering that we don't continue to 'teach and preach Christ?'

Sunday, 6 January 2013

We have to obey God

But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men. – Acts 5.29

The disciples stayed in trouble with the Jewish authorities. They kept preaching and they kept getting arrested. At one point the Jewish courts sentenced them to jail, but then decided the release them.  You can almost hear the officials begging the disciples to stop preaching. When they released them they told them that they really had to stop. 

But Peter and the other disciples were clear in their response. 'We have to obey God instead of man.'

Why would they say something like this? After all, doesn't the rest of scripture tell us that we have to obey those in authority?

It does, but there comes that rare time when what the law tells us to do is in drift opposition to what God tells us to do.

It reminds me of when the three Hebrew men in captivity in Babylon were told that they had to now down to the king's image. As God's people they knew they were to obey the law, but here they could not obey the law and stay true to God. So when they were brought before the king to explain themselves they  told him they could not obey. The king reminded them that he had the power to have them thrown into the fiery furnace. They politely replied 'If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.'

Just like the disciples they were not arrogant, they were not haughty, they were not rebellious - they just could not obey.

There is a lesson for us today here. We have to submit to authority. That is as clear as it can be in scripture. But when the issue is clear that we can’t obey man and God both we have no choice but to obey. There is no room for haughtiness or rebellion or demonstration – we simply have to obey God. We do so with respect toward those in authority, and we realise that we may suffer the consequences of that choice.

Disobedience is not something to be taken lightly, but sometimes we may have no choice. 

Saturday, 5 January 2013

With all boldness

Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word,  - Acts 4.29

After the disciples told the Jewish officials that they could not shut up about Jesus the officials found themselves in quite a fix. Peter and John really had not broken any laws and they had he support of the people because God was being glorified. They didn't know what to do so they had to release them.

When they met with the others they prayed together. They knew that they were going to be opposed by both the religious and the political leaders. They knew they were not up to the task alone.

So they did the only thing they knew to do - they prayed. And what did they pray for? They prayed for boldness as they spoke the word of God. This boldness means they prayed for clarity of thought, for the right words to say, and the courage to say them.

And the wonderful thing is we read a couple of verses later that they proclaimed the word with boldness.

It appears to me that these men had the same fears and problems proclaiming the word of God that we do. However, instead of letting those fears control them they did what we need to do. They asked God for boldness to achieve the task, they acted by faith, and God gave them that boldness.

Oh that we would follow their example, proclaim our faith, and let God give us the boldness to do it. 

Friday, 4 January 2013

We cannot shut up

So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." – Acts 4.18-20

When the disciples were released they were told that they were forbidden to talk about Jesus any more or face further prosecution. That wuold have been, in anybody's mind, reason enough to quit. 'If we get thrown in jail, what is going to to preach the gospel.' We will just go underground, be quiet, live godly lives, and maybe people will get saved that way.'

Who could argue with that line of reasoning?  
When I read this passage the Holy Spirit always smites my heart. I have to tell you that it doesn't take a threa to jail to shut me up sometimes. I can be stopped by a fear of rejection, of mocking, or just not fitting in. Sad, isn't it?

But look what these guys said. 'You do what you need to do.  But we can’t keep quiet about Jesus.’

Those words hit me hard. These guys could not be shut up and I can hardly speak up.

Something ain’t right there. 

Thursday, 3 January 2013

That they had been with Jesus

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. - Acts 4.13

It is hard to imagine a less likely foundation or the church than these disciples. John MacArthur refers to them as 'twelve ordinary men.' These guys were not superstars. There were fishermen and tax collectors. They were not the scholars and saints. They were just everyday folk like  you and me.

When the Jews saw Peter and John the realised they were not trained or educated. They were simple men, but something stood out about them. They had an unusual boldness. They had courage and confidence and conviction far above what they should have considering who they were. They were just fishermen - that's all, nothing special.

Except for one little thing – they had been with Jesus.

And that makes all the difference in the world.

When we are with Jesus the weak can defeat the mighty. When we are with Jesus the foolish can defeat the wise. When we are with the base and despised become useful and beautiful.

The Jewish leaders recognised that Peter had John had been with Jesus, then it all clicked. No wonder things were different with them.

Do those around us have any idea that we have been with Jesus? 

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

No other name

Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." – Acts 4.12

One of the accusations of Christianity is that it is an exclusivitist 'religion.' It upsets people that Christians say 'Only Christians go to heaven.'

From one perspective I guess it does seem exclusive.  The Bible does teach that only those who put their faith in Christ are going to be in heaven. I remember witnessing to woman in our home in Dublin many years ago. She made a comment something like 'it sounds like an us and you situation. Like you have something we don't.'

I explained to her that she was right. There is a bit of  'us and you' about salvation. It is a dividing line. It does make a difference.

But I went on to explain that it is not exclusive at all because though salvation is only in the name of Christ it is open to everyone. No one is left out. Christ’s invitation to salvation is 'whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'

In reality our Christian faith is the opposite of exclusive. It is open to ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord’ no matter what.

There is indeed ‘no other name,’ but whoever calls on that name can be saved. 

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Jesus is my Cornerstone

let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the Stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the Chief Cornerstone.' – Acts 4.10-11

Most of the Jews of this time had a basic understanding of the scriptures. Most of them knew the prophecies about Messiah. They all knew about the ‘rejected stone’ that would become the ‘Cornerstone.’ In Matthew 21.42 Jesus quoted Psalm 118.20-23 when He said of Himself – ‘This is the gate of the Lord, through which the righteous shall enter. I will praise You, for You have answered me, and have become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing; It is marvellous in our eyes.’

Peter makes a direct application in his letter to the church later on – ‘To you who believe Jesus is a precious Stone, but to those who don’t believe He is the rejected stone Who became the Cornerstone of the Church.

We still live in a world that rejects the Stone. They really don't want Him.

As we enter a new year we need to decide what our foundation for the year is going to be. The world has rejected Jesus. We need to be sure that we don’t emulate the world by building our year without Him. We need to lay our foundation in Jesus as our precious cornerstone for 2013, and then build throughout the year on that foundation.

I remember a song called ‘Jesus is the Cornerstone’ from several years ago. I think maybe its words are a great reminder for this new year:

(Words & Music by Lari Goss)

Jesus is the Cornerstone,
He came for sinners to atone;
Tho' rejected by His own,
He became the Cornerstone.

O Jesus is the Cornerstone.

When I am by trial oppressed,
On the Stone I am at rest;
When the seeds of truth are sown,
He remains the Cornerstone.

Jesus is the Cornerstone.

O Rock of Ages oh cleft for me,
Oh let me hide myself in Thee;
O Rock of Ages so secure,
And for all time it shall endure;
Til the children reach their home,
He remains the Cornerstone.

Till the breaking of the dawn,
Oh til all footsteps have ceased to roam;
Ever let the truth be known,
That Jesus is the Cornerstone.

Jesus is the Cornerstone.

Till the breaking of the dawn,
Oh til all footsteps have ceased to roam;
Ever let His truth be known,
That Jesus is the Cornerstone.

My Jesus is the Cornerstone!