Thursday, 28 February 2013

True Revival!

This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practised magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totalled fifty thousand pieces of silver. – Acts 19.17-19

In a lot of ways the world has cheapened the gospel today.  I spent a good part of my Christian life in American churches. We always had ‘revivals’ every year. I have been to tent ‘revivals.’ I even remember taking part in an old ‘city-wide revival’ in Huntsville, Alabama.

But I have to be honest; I have never seen true revival. At least I haven’t see the kind of revival that took place at Ephesus.

Both Jews and Greeks heard the gospel. ‘Great fear’ fell on them, Jesus was magnified, and many believed. But look at the evidence of true revival.

Those who believed came and confessed their sin and told everyone what they had done. Can you imagine that?

Not only that, they brought all of their magic books and tricks and trinkets and the burned them in a fire. I have no idea how much ’50,000 pieces of silver’ is worth, but it certainly sounds like a lot!

When revival came to Ephesus the change was obvious. The people not only confessed their sins, but they totally gave up their livelihood at expense to themselves. Not only did they lose the value of all their stuff, but they last any future income.

Folks, this is real, true revival. It isn’t just a series of meetings. It changes everything. We read of the great revivals of the last 100-200 years and we see whole communities changed. We see nations changed because the revival really ‘stuck.’

Oh how we need that kind of revival. I don’t pray for that kind of revival nearly enough. If true revival could strike wicked and corrupt Ephesus can it not happen in Ireland or the UK or the US or South Africa or any other place today?

I, for one, need to get serious about praying for an Ephesus-like revival in Ireland today! 

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Aquila and Priscilla

So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 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.  - Acts 18.26-28

Aquila and Priscilla are another example so lesser known people of the Bible who really had an impact. As we saw yesterday Apollo was a pretty special guy. He had all the skills and abilities and fire that he needed. The only thing he didn’t have was the knowledge and training to do what needed to be done.

So along came Aquila and Priscilla. I really like this couple. They saw a guy who was doing his best and saw the potential of what he could accomplish so they came alongside him and guided and taught him the finer details of the way of God. They filled in the gaps and gave him what he needed to do what God had obviously called him to do.

And look at the impact that their training had. Apollos wanted to go into Achaia to preach so the disciples drew up a letter of introduction and support asking the churches there to receive him. When Apollos got there he ‘greatly helped those who had believed through grace. He refuted the arguments of the unbelieving Jews. And he showed from the Scriptures that Jesus was indeed the Christ. 

All of this happened because one godly couple saw this diamond in the rough and decided to do something about it. God make us Aquilas and Priscillas to be there to help folks in God’s service on their way. 

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Boiling over in spirit

Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. - Acts 18.24-25

Apollos is one of those largely unknown believers who catch our eye as we read through the book of Acts. We kind of see him on the second tier, and that is a shame because he is a pretty awesome guy.

Before he was even fully instructed we see that he was:

Mighty in the Scriptures
Fervent in spirit
A good teacher
Bold in his speech

All of these would be great things to talk about. But I especially like the phrase ‘fervent in spirit.’ That word ‘fervent’ is the root word for our word ‘zealous,’ but even that doesn’t really capture the meaning. ‘The word means ‘hot and boiling over.’

I have to say that I love serving the Lord. I love the people God has called us to serve. I try to be faithful. I do my best at teaching the word. I pray for boldness. While study and prepare and pray for strength in the pulpit I could not be accused of being eloquent or mighty in the Scriptures.

But one thing is certain.  I really don't sense the kind of boiling over fervency that Apollos had in my own life.

I need that fervour right now. Please Father, give me that boiling over zeal as I strive to serve You. Give me a spirit like Apollos. 

Monday, 25 February 2013


And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. - Acts 17.32-42

The response to Paul's message was varied. It was like nothing they had ever heard before. Mars Hill was shaken like it had never been.

Resurrection was a key debate issue. Those who were for it and those who were against it were heated in their debate. It was a real touch point, maybe something like Calvinism today. Talking about the resurrection could always get you a good argument/debate.

So he finished the message and the people, as they do, responded in three ways.

Some mocked him. Some wanted to hear more. But some joined him and believed.

I like this. If we were to try and rate great Christian servants since the beginning of the church Paul would have to be in the top 5. (I realise we can’t rate servants by success, but you get the picture.) And yet even Paul did not have a 100% ‘success’ rate. People responded to him the same way they do us.

Some are going to mock. We might as well get used to it. There are a lot worse things in this life than being mocked. How sad it is when we are stopped or put off my mockery.

But some are going to hear more. They are our hope. There don’t turn us off. They want to know more. These folks are such a blessing because we continue to have a chance to live before them and share with them the glorious gospel. Let’s be sure that we never give up on these folks.

But then there are the others. ‘Some men joined him and believed, and a woman…’

Praise God for those who join us in our faith and believe.

Let’s pray for those who mock, stick with those who want to hear more, and move forward with those who believe. 

Sunday, 24 February 2013

All men everywhere

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead." – Acts 17.30-31

Something changed when Jesus came. Before that time God patiently and lovingly overlooked the ignorance of the world. God could long ago have destroyed Athens for her total commitment to idolatry, but He didn’t. His patience and long suffering endured until the time of Christ.

But now things are different. Now Christ has come and the gospel is clear and God commands that all men everywhere must repent.

That means that everyone I know must repent of their sin and turn to Christ. Everyone.  All of my family and friends and co-workers and neighbours and associates and people I meet on my morning walk and the window washer and my mechanic and the guy at the shop and the gal at the supermarket and my Facebook and Twitter contacts everyone else must repent in order to avoid God’s eventual judgement.

But the wonderful truth is that though everyone must repent everyone can. The shopkeeper in the marketplace in Isaiah 55 said ‘Hello! Everyone who is thirsty come and drink water freely.’ God is not willing that any would perish. God would have all men everywhere to turn to Him.

That’s why Jesus told His disciples before He left that they are to go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone – because God commands all men everywhere to repent.

That truth hasn’t changed since Paul proclaimed it on Mars Hill. Our responsibility hasn’t changed since Jesus left.

What are we doing about the ‘all men everywhere’ who are in our lives? 

Saturday, 23 February 2013

In Him we live

…in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.' – Acts 17.28

Paul was on at roll at Mars Hill. His message was powerful and to the point. 'The Unknown God is the creator of the world and everything in it. He made all the world of one blood so that we are all the same. He is not far off but is right there waiting for us to call on Him.'

Then Paul goes further to set God apart. It is in Him and Him alone that we live and move and have our being.

What does that mean? It means that all we have is because of our God.

Though the special Father/child relationship is reserved for those who truly become the children of God by faith in Christ there is a sense where all men are the natural offspring of God by virtue of creation. Paul was appealing to something his hearers knew in order to introduce them to Christ.

But there is also a lesson for us. We need to remember that everything we have or do in this life is because The Lord allows us to have it. This also means that we can be assured that we can depend on Him.

What a blessing to know that we do not live or move or have our being in ourselves for we would surely mess it all up. We do that whenever we try it on our own.

But when we live and move and have our being in Him we can never fail. 

Friday, 22 February 2013

Not far

God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshipped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; -Acts 17.24-27

One of the goals of religion has been to try to bring man and whatever god the religion follows closer together. Societies have always felt that there as a gap there that must be fixed.

Here we find out why that is. God created all men in such a way that they would always seek Him. Romans 1 tells us that He has made Himself manifest through His creation so that all men are without excuse.

And here God goes one step farther. He not only made man to seek Him, but he is not far off. God made Himself available and He made Himself close. This on its own is an amazing truth. While man normally tries to distance himself from all that is ugly and dirty and unseemly God draws right up close for sinful man to find Him.

I spoke to a man on my walk this morning. He loves dogs and didn’t know Jingo had died. When I told him how he launched into a tirade against Ireland, drivers, laws, the Catholic Church, and the God he said he did not believe in. When I mentioned that I did believe in God he angrily went off again this time on religion and the abuses of the Catholic Church here in Ireland.
When I had a chance I explained to him that I have a personal relationship with God and that God feels the same way he does about a lot of this stuff. God hates it when people are more concerned with their religion than show love and compassion to others. I told Him that what God expects His people to do is to let justice flow like a river and righteous come out like a refreshing stream.

He politely but quickly said his good-byes and went on his way.

The problem is that this gentleman does not see God at all. He chooses to not see Him. Some other people try extra hard to reach out to God because they seem Him as far, far away.

But the truth is that God is right there. He is not far off. He is close by for anyone who will look for Him and call out to Him.

God made us God seekers. He wants us to been in fellowship with Him. He is right there and will respond if we simply call out to Him.

The prophet Isaiah has the answer.

Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. – Isaiah 55.6

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Of one blood

God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; - Acts 17.24-27
Paul wasted no time in explaining who this ‘unknown God’ was. He says that the 'Unknown God' is the God who made the world and everything in it. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn't dwell in temples and can't be represented with idols. He doesn't need anything. He is the one who gives life and breath.

In just a few choice words Paul really summarises who the Athenians unknown God is. He is the unique one true God.

After these words about the authority of God the first thing we read about God is that though He has indeed ordained man’s times and places and borders and where man will live one thing stands out.

We are all one. We are all of one blood and our common creator is God.

Man seems to always find a way to find someone to hate just because there are different. We tend to accept hate if their skin is the wrong colour or they are from a different place or have a difference accent or worship another religion or any other of a number of sorry and sinful excuses.

I am disgusted at the pejoratives and hate filled names that we, even we Christians, can find to use against others who are of the same blood as we are and have the same Creator God. Yes, we must condemn and can never excuse unrighteousness, but that never excuses the hatred and vitriol that can pour out from 'Christian' lips.

It is probably no longer considered politically correct, but the great old children’s song had it right. Jesus does indeed love all the children of the world – red and yellow, black and white they are all precious in His sight. Jesus loves them; English, Irish, Dutch and Jew, Russian and Italian too.

If Jesus loves them who are we to express hatred against them? 

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

You are very religious

 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: - Acts 17.22-23

I don't know that I would over have the courage and the boldness to do some of the things Paul did. Contrary to what I mentioned earlier he did go to the synagogue at Athens. He also went to the Gentiles. He also went to the marketplace to speak to whoever would listen. He was causing quite a stir in the city.

In Athens there was a place on Mars Hill called the Aeropagus. This is where important people went to talk about important stuff. Lest you think I am making that up here is what we read about the place in Acts 17.21 - 'For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.'

Some of the men who spent time heard about Paul and said ‘Let’s bring this guy up and hear what he has to say. We are hearing some strange things and would like to hear more about it.’

So Paul went up to Mars Hill and when it was his turn to speak he said ‘I see that you all are very religious.’  

Notice that Paul did not launch right in to attacked their false worship. He said something that probably made them feel pretty good about themselves. They had a whole litany of gods with images that lined the streets. I suppose these guys though that this Paul was not so bad after all.

‘As I wandered and saw all the idols. I found one that said ‘To the Unknown God’ and I want to tell you all about Him.’

 Notice the wisdom Paul used in sharing the gospel. His heart had been stirred at a city ‘wholly given to idolatry’ but he used that stirred heart to preach the gospel in such a way that it has an appeal.

I think there is a lesson for us. Paul started with what they knew and preached the gospel from that point. He wasn’t rude or offensive. He grabbed their attention. As we read along we see that he did tell them that their worship was wrong and misdirected and did not compromise the gospel.

May we learn from examples like this. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

His heart was provoked

 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. - Acts 17.16

After Berea we find the unusual situation when Paul is off on his own. He was anxious to get to Athens so he went there to wait for Paul and Silas. From all appearance he was just going to go there and wait for Silas and Timothy to arrive. Perhaps he was doing something of a survey trip to get to know the city better before the other lads arrived. I don't think we know for sure, but being in Athens chances are that was not a large Jewish population so they would not, as their custom was, go to the synagogue to preach.

Anyway, we find Paul wandering the city waiting for them. But while he waited something happened. He saw a city totally given over to idol worship.

His heart was so provoked that he could not keep quiet. He immediately started telling people about Jesus everywhere he went.

I am saddened and challenged because I think of how seldom my heart is ever provoked by the world around me. I can be so focused on me and what I ‘need to get done’ that I forget that there is a world around me totally given over to its own kind of idolatry.

Oh God, may my own spirit be provoked like Paul's as I go through my walk today! 

Monday, 18 February 2013

More fair-minded

 Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 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. Acts 17.10-12

Things got so bad at Thessalonica that they had to sneak Paul and Silas out by night. As bad as Thessalonica was, Berea was quite a relief. The people there were more 'fair -minded' (or ‘more noble’ as the KJV translates it) than those in Thessalonica and responded in a much better manner.

Where Thessalonica rose up in turmoil the men of Berea receive the word of God with all readiness and they searched the scriptures daily to find out if what they heard was actually true.

I like this because these men were so fair that they did not just reject what Paul said out of hand because it was not familiar. They also did not just accept it because these preachers said it. They chose to examine the scriptures for themselves to see if what was said was true.

That’s the kind of Christians we need to be. We don’t need to be so set in our opinions that we ignore or reject teaching just because we don’t think it sounds right or doesn’t fit our preconceived notions. Often we confuse traditions with Biblical truth. We don’t like to have our boat rocked. It is much more comfortable to just carry on. But the noble thing to do is to check it out with scripture before we judge.

But that’s not the only angle to see this. We are also doing the right thing to search the scriptures to see if what we hear is true even when it is not what we are used to. Years ago I heard a preacher who was quite well known tell a student in chapel to ‘put that Bible away and just pay attention to me.’

That is not what God says. God says that it is noble and fair-minded to search the scriptures to see if what we are hearing is true. Don’t reject or accept just because it is said. Simply check it out for ourselves.

And what happened when these men did check it out? ‘Many of them believed.’

We never have to fear searching the word of God. 

Sunday, 17 February 2013

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. - Acts 17.6

Almost every place the disciples went they found trouble and opposition. They were still in Thessalonica where Paul had reasoned in the synagogue from the scriptures and where ‘some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women,’

But, of course, the Jewish leaders didn't like it. They took some ‘lewd fellows of the baser sort’ (I love that KJV phrase) and incited a riot against Paul and his missionary team.

When they dragged Jason, who owned the house was Paul was staying, and a few of the other disciples before the city officials their charge was simple.

'The men who have turned the world upside down have come here now.'

It was meant as an attack. It meant 'this are a bunch of troublemakers who create a mess of things wherever they go. ' It was not a compliment.

At least to those who were making the accusation.

But think about it for a second.

Is this not also a testimony that any of us would love to have? The problem today is that we are hardly even noticed. Not only do we seldom turn the world upside down, we rarely even turn the world's eye.

Oh if it could only be said of me that I turned my town upside down with the gospel. 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Reasoned from the scriptures

Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ." – Acts 17.2-3

We come across all kinds of preachers and teachers in the Christian life. Being in church as long as I have I have pretty much heard it all. I have heard lecturing preachers. I have heard preachers that sounded like there were teaching a class. I have heard preachers that pull on the emotions. I have heard preachers that tried to shout his hearers into submission. I have heard preachers who tried to guilt the listeners into responding. I heard preachers use logic and human wisdom to get their point across. I guess it takes all types.

But I really think Paul had it figured out.

Paul, as his custom was, went in and...reasoned from the scriptures.

He took them to the one thing they cold not argue with. They could not argue with the Bible. If we were talking about today's setting we would say that 'Paul opened his Bible and discussed the matters with them from the Scriptures.'

When it comes right down to it that is all that is ever going to have any impact. Human wisdom and intelligence and logic is always going to fall short. Our skills and abilities are never going to get the job done.

All we can do is open the scriptures and reason from them that Jesus is the Christ and the only hope of salvation.

I tend to think that people are not going to listen if I delve straight into the word of God when trying to reason with them. But it is the scriptures and the scriptures alone that have the power to draw men to Christ. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

What must I do to be saved?

And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptised.  – Acts 16.30-33

The story of the Philippian jailer is one of those great stories. This is one of the first passages of scripture I ever looked about the time of my salvation. The simplicity of the gospel grabbed my attention.

Paul and Silas were in prison for preaching (again). They were still in Philippi when they cast a demon on of a girl who was making money through here demonic prophecies. When her owners saw it they realised their hope of making money was gone they had Paul and Silas arrested.

That set the stage of a couple of noteworthy events.

First we see Paul and Silas in chains in a dirty old jail at midnight. But we don't see them down and feeling sorry for themselves. We see them, after being arrested and beaten and chained to the wall, praying and singing hymns to the Lord.

This fact alone is enough to cause us to pause and consider. Every time I look over this passage I am disgusted with my own little pity parties. Paul and Silas were n the depths of despair  They had it really bad. And yet they were praying and singing hymns of praise. And the other prisoners were listening to them. (Ouch, what a challenge.)

But on to the point of today's thought.

Paul and Silas could rejoice and pray and sing in the midst of a desperate situation because they were men of faith. They knew and believed and trusted that no matter how bad things seemed God would use it for His glory (there is a lesson in itself there!)

And did God ever work! He sent an earthquake that broke down the chains and the prison bars. All of the prisoners were free and of right should have just taken off. Losing prisoners was a capital offence so the jailer drew his sword to kill himself when he saw the mess. But Paul stepped forward and told him to hold off ‘Don’t do anything’ Paul called out, ‘we are all here.’

Now remember what had been going on just before. Paul and Silas after been arrested and beaten were handed over to this jailer. Instead of moaning and crying and whinging about their miserable lot in life they prayed and sang and the prison heard them. When the earthquake came none of the prisoners left.

Often God is doing the most work when we can’t see it. Often He is working the most when all we see is gloom and defeat. This was one of those cases.

The jailer was stunned – ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’

There we have it. Do you think the arrest and the beating and being chained in a first century jail was worth it to hear that one man say that? Of course it was!

And then those immortal words ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.’

God used their trial and affliction to bring the jailer and his family to Christ. This helped to lay the foundation for the church at Philippi.

What can and will God do through our struggles and affliction? Maybe if I (and others possibly  would learn to pray and sing praises instead of moan and complain we might see what He can do.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

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 worshipped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptised  she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us. - Acts 16.14-15

I love the story of the Philippian church from the very beginning. When Paul and Silas crossed over the water to Philippi they came across a prayer riverside prayer meeting. There they found a group of people, including a wealthy woman named Lydia. Lydia already worshipped God and was meeting for prayer with a group of people.

Paul, like he always did (and like we should be ready to) shared the gospel with this stranger at the prayer meeting.

When the gospel was shared Lydia paid attention because the Lord opened her heart.

This was the start of the church at Philippi. It is an amazingly interesting church. Paul’s later letter back to the church is full of love and instruction.

But it all started with the Lord opening the heart of one merchant.

In the midst of all the excitement in the early days of the church it is important to note who is at work. Sure, we have examples of some of the most courageous, bold, persistent, and dedicated servants of the Lord that we will ever see. We can look to them as examples of faithfulness and admire their godly service, but we need to remember more than just their service. We need to remember who was actually doing the work.

The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to receive what Paul said.

When it comes to salvation God is the one who is really at work. All we can do is to be obedient, be faithful, and watch Him work.

We can’t get into a comparison of who is the greatest ‘soul-winner’ for it is the Lord alone who wins souls to Himself.

All we have to do is stay at the task and trust the Lord to open hearts. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

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." Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them. – Acts 16.9-10

Paul, Silas, and Timothy must have felt a little frustrated. Every time they tried to go some place the Holy Spirit shut the door to ministry. This finally came down to Troas to seek wisdom and decide where to go. Every door was closed and they couldn't find an open one. They couldn't find direction.

That is a frustrating situation to be in. But apparently they were still waiting on God and God gave them direction. The Holy Spirit used a vision of a man from Macedonia to say 'Come over the Macedonia and help us.'

Again we see the faith of these disciples - 'immediately we sought yo go to Macedonia,'  Luke wrote, 'concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.'

As soon as theses guys heard the Macedonian call they went, immediately. They went for a very specific reason, because they perceived that God had called them to preach the gospel in Macedonia.

I don't know a whole lot about how God uses dreams and visions. I do know that from my experience they don't appear to happen very often. In the 39 years (and one day) since my salvation God has never used a vision to direct me.

Whether God still uses visions or not really makes no difference. What matters is that He still calls.

Our call doesn’t have to come from across the Aegean Sea. It may come from across the street. Are we willing to ‘immediately seek to go?’                     

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

And churches were strengthened

And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily. – Acts 16.4-5

The book of Acts has so much to offer and so much to learn from. We often hear about 'pioneer missionaries' today, but these guys were true pioneers and trailblazers. They had no pattern; they had no book of Acts.

But from the very start they saw not only the importance of preaching the gospel, but of establishing churches wherever they went.

God knew that it was not enough for the church just be be this great world wide body of believers. God knew from the very start that we would need a body of believers to comfort, aid, and support us in our Christian life. We would need encouragement and we would also need accountability.

So as Paul and Barnabas and the others travelled they went back to where local churches had been established and they strengthened them.

This local church plan became essential. Paul wrote letters to local assemblies. In Hebrews Christians are encouraged not to forsake assembling together.

What an excited day it must have been to see churches established, strengthened, and their numbers growing.

The truth is though that we have the same Holy Spirit they had and our task is the same.

Lets be sure we keep at the work. 

Monday, 11 February 2013

The contention

Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. – Acts 15.37-41

With all of the amazing things going on here it is interesting that we see a real life situation that reminds us that these men we real people with the same weaknesses and foibles that we have today.

Paul and Barnabas were partners. We have seen them together since they first met. Barnabas was the one who supported Paul when no one else would.  They had lived and journeyed and worked together. They had been through all kinds of struggles and tribulations. Their lives had been threatened. They wee as close as a team could be.

But then something happened.

Barnabas wanted to add John Mark to the missionary team. Paul said no because John Mark had quit on them when they were in Pamphylia. They simply cold not agree. The word 'contention' seems to imply that they had an angry dispute over the matter. The disagreement was so severe that they 'parted from one another.' .

Those are really sad words. These two men, who have struggled together for so long and through so much, parted company.  

It is indeed a sad event, but the end of the story comes later near the end of Paul’s life. At that point he will write, ‘Bring Mark, for he is profitable for the ministry,’ but more on that later.

There is something for us here. Though it took an unfortunate break of the team God used it in His way. Barnabas indeed took Mark and set out on his own ministry. Paul took Silas and they too set out on their own.

The wonderful truth is that God can use even sad events like this and turn them into good. One team became two, and each was used by God to carry His message. 

Sunday, 10 February 2013

No yoke

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? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they." – Acts 15.10-11

It seems like from he earliest days people have tried to add a yoke to the gospel. That is just part and parcel of religion.

When Gentiles stated getting saved  the Jews thought they should have to do the same things they did or had done. They wanted the Gentiles to submit to circumcision.  They wanted them to live by the Law after they were saved.

'Why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples?'

That's a pretty powerful question. First, look who is being tested by yoking the disciples? Not the yokers, not the yokees, but God is the One who is tested when ever a yoke is added to the gospel. The reason is that if God doesn't put a yoke there who are we to impose one?

The true gospel is yoke-less. The entire book of Galatians deals with grace robbers who try to rob the joy of salvation by burdening Christians with a heavy yoke.

Matthew 11.29-30 -"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

If our Christian life is yoked by man's rules and man made regulations we are not living the way Jesus wants us to live. His yoke is easy. His burden is light.

Don’t let the grace robbers weigh you down. 

Saturday, 9 February 2013

No distinction

So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 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? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they." – Acts 15.8-11

It some ways it is hard for us to grasp what it was like in the early church.  The saved Jews thought this was just going to be kind of a completed Judaism. They really weren't sure that the Gentiles should be a part of it unless they became Jews as a part of becoming a Christian. At the very least surely the Jewish believes would somehow be closer to God because of their history. The Gentiles would only be grafted into the true church made up of saved Jews.

The churches held a council at Jerusalem to decide what to do. How are they going to handle this dilemma?

They came to the conclusion that they must include the Gentile believers. God gave them the same Holy Spirit after all and He purified their hearts with the same faith. By the grace of God they were all saved in the exact same manner.

So the disciples said that there was 'no distinction between us and them.'

From the very start the church has been a place where there is no place for distinctions within the body. Those from generations of Christians who have been saved since a child are no better and indeed no worse than those saved today from lives of wickedness and immorality.

When Paul wrote to the Galatians he put it this way - 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.'

No distinctions. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. 

Friday, 8 February 2013

How God had opened the door

Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.  – Acts 14.27

I think it is kind of 'neat' to read about the early church and what went on. I like to compare and contrast it to what goes on today. When Paul and Barnabas finished their first mission's trip they made their way back to Antioch. The church which had commissioned them and sent them on their way was there. The church gathered together to hear how things had gone.

So the church gathered together to hear their report. I like how we read the church was gathered together instead of 'everyone came to church.' I know it is just a technicality, but I think it is important that we remember this, we don't really 'go to church.' Instead 'the church gathers together' to fellowship and worship.

But, back to the main topic.

The men reported what God and done and how He had opened the door of the gospel. The lesson is simple – God does the work, all we have to do is to be obedient to Him.

I really like that. God works through us; all we have to do is obey Him. As long as I am obedient to the rest is up to Him.

The problem when we either don’t obey or we try to get in the way.

May we all let God do His work in our lives as we obey Him. 

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Strengthening the souls

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.” - Acts  14.21-22

There are so many lessons for all of us from the example set by Paul and Barnabas. Over and over so far we have seen their tenacity and dedication and their boldness to preach the gospel no matter what came up or what kind of opposition they faced. By this time Paul had already been stoned and left for dead because of the preaching, but they just kept going.

But they did much more than just preach to see people saved. Here we find out that they went back to the new disciples where they strengthened their souls, exhorted them to continue in the faith, and warned them that trials and tribulation are part of the Christian life.

That sounds like a good preaching outline doesn't it?

I like the idea of 'strengthening souls and exhorting them to continue.' The word 'strengthen' was translated 'confirm' in the King James Version. It literally means to 'set firmly upon.' Paul and Barnabas, in other words, were back to make sure that the disciples truly were saved and that they were getting started on a firm foundation.

Those of us who are mature believers have a responsibility to do the same today. We need to be sure that as we have opportunity we help new believes to make sure that they are on a firm foundation, to set them firmly on the Solid Rock.

Along with that comes the example of exhortation. As the church develops we are going to see that a key reason for fellowship and assembling together is simply to exhort and encourage each other to continue on in the faith.

Finally there was a warning. Lest anyone thing that salvation was going to bring an easy road Paul and Barnabas warned the new believers were still going to face tough times.

Strengthen, exhort, and warn are a major part of our ministry to each other, especially to those are new to the faith. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

We are men like you

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and saying, "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,  - Acts 14.14-15

Barnabas and Paul were causing quite a scheme with all they we doing. While in Lystra they healed a lame man. When they did that the people were stunned and wanted to worship them. They though that Zeus and Hermes and Zeus' priests came to them to offer sacrifices to them.

When it happened Paul and Barnabas we amazed, embarrassed, shocked, and appalled. In the custom of he day they tore their clothes in despair.

'Why are you doing this? We are no better than you are!'

But then they were sharp enough and bold enough to seize the moment.
‘Don’t worship us,’ they said, ‘but we’ll tell who you should worship.’

I like that these guys took every opportunity to share the gospel. This crowd didn't listen, they continued to try to worship Paul and Barnabas, but that doesn't negate the fact that they tried to share.

But I think there is another application here. I doubt that any of us will ever be confused with false gods, but there can be a temptation to accept elevation and adulation. This is especially dangerous for those who are in places of authority.

We all like praise. We all like to be encouraged. We all like it when someone tells us what a great job we did or what a great sermon we preached or how wonderful we are for caring. But, if we are not careful, we can start to believe it and think that we really are something special.

If we ever forget that ‘we are men just like you’ we get ourselves in great danger.  We are all in the same boat. We had better remember that ‘we are all people of the same nature’ and none is any better than the other. 

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

And they were preaching the gospel

And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region. And they were preaching the gospel there.  – Acts 14.5-7

Things just got worse for Paul and Barnabas.  Now the Jews and Gentiles and there rulers attempted to use violence to stop the preaching. They wanted to abuse and stone them. We know for sure that Paul at least knew what stoning was. He was there when Stephen was there and even held the cloaks of the stoners.

Surely now these guys would shut up. Surely the threat of abuse and stoning would change their minds and send them home.

But no. Paul and Barnabas did leave the region where they were preaching and moved to another region. To hide and take cover?

No. 'And they were preaching the gospel there.'

I really don't know what more there is to say. We can make all the excuses we want. We can talk about different time and different cultures and the newness of the gospel and about any number of things, but under a death threat threat these guys just changed location and kept on preaching.

Jesus told the disciples in His last words ‘You shall be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth.’

These disciples took that seriously. When they were run off from one place they went to another, but they kept going and they kept preaching.

Can anybody think of an out clause for us that excludes us from the same instruction? 

Monday, 4 February 2013

They grew bold

But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. – Acts 13.45-46

I am always amazed by Paul and Barnabas. Their courage is simply amazing. As they preached great numbers began to follow them and turn to Christ. When the Jews saw the big crowds they were jealous and became angry. They contradicted them. They blasphemed. They did all they could do to oppose them.

I wonder what I would have done. I wonder if I would even have been preaching to start with. I wish I knew that I would have done it, but I just don't know. I wonder even more what I would have done if I was doing it, and then this kind of opposition arose.

But look what they did. They ‘grew bold’ and spoke to the people. ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you, but you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of salvation.’

These verses really get to me. Though I try to share my faith and to tell others about Christ and the glorious gospel I am far too easily put off by scary situations.

But these guys seemed to thrive. They needed boldness. It did not just happen. We know that because Paul once asked the church to pray for his boldness.

I have to ask myself where my boldness is in those situations.

Maybe I can ask anyone reading this to pray with me for my own boldness in those tough situations. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Continue in the grace of God

Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. – Acts 13.43

Sometimes the Christian life is not all about victories and highlights and great blessings. Sometimes it is not about trial and struggles and battles.

Sometimes it is all about continuing on.

After Paul's great message about justification a great many followed Paul and Barnabas. There were two groups who had heard their message and heeded its words. There was a group of Gentiles and there was a group of Jews and proselytes. The latter group is mentioned here.

As the meeting broke up Paul and Barnabas encouraged them with a few simple words – ‘Continue in the grace of God.’

Man I like that advice. Ain’t it great? Just continue in the grace of God. Wow.

What does it mean? It means pretty simply that we just don’t quit. In good times and bad, through thickness and thin, and in health and illness we just continue on depending on the grace of God to see us through.

Like I said at the start, most of our Christian is just continuing on by the grace of God.

May I be a continuer.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

You could not be justified

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. – Acts 13.38-39

I love the study of justification. When I was in theology class I learned a little hint to help remember what justification is. We said it was done so that we are 'just as if' I had never sinned. It must be a pretty good reminder because it still sticks in my head today.

Now though when I think of justification I think of being 'brought into line.' The image in my head is those little justification icons on my words processor. We can justify left, justify centre, justify right, or justify fully. It means that we bring our text in line with certain parameters.

God has a certain standard for mankind. In order to be justified to His standard a man or woman must be perfect and without sin. The lines are clear. It is that simple.

The Jews thought they could meet up to God's standard by perfectly aligned with the Law.

In this passage Paul is preaching to the crowd in Antioch. Several times in the message he referred to the fact that God has raised Jesus from the dead and he compared Jesus to Old Testament characters. They all died, so did Jesus, but Jesus was raised from the dead.

Not only is there that, but only in Jesus there forgiveness of sins.

But there is a disclaimer. There is a ‘must do’ to receive the forgiveness. ‘By Him everyone who believes is justified from all things.’ The Law could not justify, but Jesus can. No man can bring himself into line with God’s standards, but Jesus can.

I praise God for His justifying power. I praise God that it was made efficacious to me throw the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Nothing else could do – only Jesus.

The first part of the great 19th century hymn ‘Complete in Thee’ says it so well:

Complete in Thee! no work of mine
May take, dear Lord, the place of Thine;
Thy blood hath pardon bought for me,
And I am now complete in Thee.

Yea, justified! O blessed thought!
And sanctified! Salvation wrought!
Thy blood hath pardon bought for me,
And glorified, I too, shall be!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Saul or Paul?

Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him – Acts 13.9

There are a few cases in the Bible where we get to see a name change take place. Abram became Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Jacob became Israel, and I am sure there are a few others.

There is always a reason for it. Sometimes God directs a name change and sometimes people take on another name for cultural reasons.

The Saul to Paul reference is one I had never thought about before.

'Saul, who is also called Paul...'

From this point on we read only about Paul and no more about Saul.

So why this change of name?

Saul was his Hebrew name. He was born a Jew and was the Jew of Jews. But he was also a Roman citizen, a natural born citizen of Rome. His Latin name was Paul.

But the question remains - why this obvious change of usage?

From this point on Paul’s ministry is going to primarily be to the Gentiles. With his change of focus came a change of perspective. It was no longer so important to identify with his ‘Jewishness.’ If he was going to preach to the Gentiles he was willing to take on his Gentile name.

There is a great example here for anyone serving God outside of the country or culture they are born into. While we must never compromise on the word of God and its principles, and while we can never excuse sin as a local custom, we can and must be willing to lay aside the focus on the homeland. We must, as much as we can, learn to live among and as the people where we are so that we cause no unnecessary offence.

When we change countries or cultures or ways of life and refuse to make any concession to where we live we say that our way is better. We say that it is beneath us to change and though we live here, it is not as good as home.

Paul set a pattern for all of us you serve and live outside of the place we were born or raised. He wrote this to the Corinthians – ‘For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law;  to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.’

‘That I may by all means save some…’ Isn’t that goal more important that clinging to our culture?