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Character shows

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Acts 17:11 “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica,<sup class="crossreference" value="(T)”> for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures<sup class="crossreference" value="(U)”> every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

      If you’re like me your interest in the truth depends on what it’s about.  I like to know the truth about what’s going on in the world.  Knowing the truth about your neighbour is always interesting.  Knowing the truth about yourself is a totally different matter.  Sadly, abandoning a flattering lie about myself and accepting the harder truth has always been a difficult struggle for me.  Yet it is the narrow path to peace and freedom from your lying self.

     In Thessalonica the people responded with anger and jealousy to the Gospel.  Paul; ” . . . reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer<sup class="crossreference" value="(E)”> and rise from the dead.<sup class="crossreference" value="(F)”> ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ ” (Acts 17:2,3)  Some believed, many others got angry and made trouble.  They created a riot and blamed it on Paul and Silas; “These men who have caused trouble all over the world<sup class="crossreference" value="(M)”> have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”  (Acts 17:6,7)

     The Gospel causes trouble.  The Gospel goes against Caesar’s decrees.  The Gospel talks about  a King greater than Caesar.  People who preach the Gospel are trouble makers.  Does any of this sound familiar?  It happened then.  It happens now.  The world hasn’t changed.  It hates the Gospel and responds with violence and trouble.  The world then lies and puts blame on the innocent.  Jesus told us plainly; “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.”  (John 15:18)

     Those in Berea were interested in the truth.  They searched for the truth.  They wanted to know it.  They didn’t just accept what someone said they checked it out in scripture.  They knew that scripture was the only sure way to assess the validity of someone’s claims.  Barnes’ Notes describes them in this way; “They listened attentively and respectfully to the gospel. They did not reject and spurn it as unworthy of examination. This is the first particular in which they were more noble than those in Thessalonica.”

     What are we interested in today?  Truth? Money? Fun? God? Love? Sacrifice?    Do we truly want the answers to those questions about ourselves.  A noble character does not seek to hide the dirt by dressing in fine robes but rather seeks to be washed clean.  As members of the body of Christ, should we not also have this noble desire; a desire to seek His truth that He might wash our character clean; “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, . . . ”  (Ephesians 5:26)

     Jesus tells us plainly; “If you hold to my teaching,<sup class="crossreference" value="(A)”> you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  (John 8:31,32)

     Praise the Lord!

Church Growth – what happened?

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Acts 9:31 “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria<sup class="crossreference" value="(AR)”> enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.”

     How many mainline church meetings over the years and years have I sat through where the leaders have lamented over the dwindling membership and diminishing resources.  And yet, through it all we have enjoyed a time of peace in so far as the church was not openly persecuted .  But we have not increased.  Why?

     Years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote;

“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”

     Fear of man and accommodation with the world has been the driving force of the church of our time and we have suffered terribly for it.   Fear of man is to be primarily concerned about popular opinion.  Fear of man is to accept the fake notions of tolerance that society demands of all.  Fear of man is to let go of some of God’s Holy Word in order to gain favour with tyrannical so called marginalized groups.  Fear of man leads to the view that growth is simply an increase in numbers.  The fatty increase of a horizontal view of the world where looking upward is deemed unrealistic is preferred over prayerful seeking of the Holy Spirit’s direction.

     The words of Hosea are a damning inditement of the leaders and people of the milk toast church of today; “The more they increased, The more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame. They eat up the sin of My people; They set their heart on their iniquity. And it shall be: like people, like priest. So I will punish them for their ways,  And reward them for their deeds. For they shall eat, but not have enough;  They shall commit harlotry, but not increase; Because they have ceased obeying the Lord.” (Hosea 4:7-10)   All this has come to pass. 

     Yet, His true church and the remnant of believers still live in fear of the Lord.   God and His Word has primacy and comes before ‘social concerns’.  God’s favour is valued first and last.  Popular opinion has no bearing upon decision making or conduct.  There is no accommodation for worldly ideas and acceptance of sin; “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2)   

     The Holy Spirit’s encouragement still lifts His true church on His wings;  “. . . those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)  Healing, deliverance, guidance and answered prayer is all in the reality of a church that lives in the fear of the Lord.  “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)

     This truly is the Lord’s work in the church today; “And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.”  (Jeremiah 23:3)

     Praise the Lord!

    

A Fire that cannot be put out!

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Acts 8: 3,4  “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.  Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.”

     Have you ever tried to put out a grass fire by stomping on the burning grass only to have sparks fly out from under your boots to ignite other areas?   No matter how hard Saul tried to put out the fire of the early church he couldn’t.  Rather, the ordinary persecuted people spread the Word!  Barnes’ Notes points out; “It is not said that they set themselves up for public teachers, or that they administered baptism, or that they founded churches, but they proclaimed everywhere the news that a Saviour had come. Their hearts were full of it. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks; and they made the truth known to ‘all.’ whom they met.”

     It is important to keep in mind that persecution of the church only spreads the fire of the Holy Spirit, if its people are on fire.  Unkindled dry or wet dead sticks are of no danger to the enemies of Jesus.  Today Satan’s ‘fire fighters’ use the fire prevention triangle in order to try to quench the spread of the Holy Spirit’s fire.  Every attempt is made to starve the church of heat, fuel and oxygen!

     A desire by some church leaders to accommodate and become friends with the world has taken away much of the heat or passion needed to sustain a Godly fire in the congregation;  “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”  (Matthew 24:11,12)  The result of this is a declining confused church: “And it will be: Like people, like priests.  I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds. ‘They will eat but not have enough; they will engage in prostitution but not flourish, because they have deserted the Lord to give themselves to prostitution; old wine and new wine take away their understanding.” (Hosea 4:9,10)  A church that produces no fruit and withers away is a sad and usual sight in our time.

     There are those false clerics within the church who seek to belittle and denigrate parts of God’s Word in order to challenge its authenticity  for our world today.  The Holy Bible is the fuel by which Christians nourish their bodies and have spiritual life; “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” (Matthew 4:4)   The world itself seeks to ban the Bible from schools and all public places.  The madness of this desire to destroy the Word is the madness of wholesale destruction; “The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and  he sustains all things by his powerful word, . . . ” (Hebrews 1:3)  Only the true Word of God can burn brightly and purify a person’s heart (John 15:3). Only God’s Word is a strong tower and refuge (Psalm 18:2).

     The oxygen of God’s Holy fire is faith.  Without faith all is dead. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”  (Hebrews 11:6)  The world and its servants do everything possible to block and hinder faith – to suffocate our spirits with disbelief and lies.  For without faith we have no testimony and cannot overcome Satan: “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony . . . ” (Revelation 12:11)  Faith flairs up the fire in our spirit so we can keep in step with His Holy Spirit in the face of any and all opposition. 

     The Sauls of this world, whether they come to see the light or not, will no matter what, spread the Gospel by the very means they use to stop it.  The real danger is found in those that would quench the Spirit by robbing the church of its passion for the Gospel.  The real danger is found in those that would block access to God’s Word and denigrate the Holy Bible.  The real danger is found in those that would suffocate our faith with lies and disbelief.

     The Good News of the Gospel is that even with such insidious tactics the fire of the Holy Spirit can’t be put out once ignited.  Why? Because God said so; “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30) God started the fire in us; “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draw him: and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)  Satan has no power over this Holy fire in us and Satan has no power over us.

     Satan’s fire fighting tactics work on almost Christians and the self-righteous religious to create a worldly church – dead and cold.  Persecution will only shake up and break open  the moldering rotting planks of empty ritual and aimless liturgy that has been stifling true believers.  The upheaval will fan the flames of God’s Holy fire!
    
      Scripture proclaims; “And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” (Hebrews 12:27,28)


     “For our God is a consuming fire.”  (Hebrews 12:29)

     Praise the Lord!

Evidence of the Holy Spirit

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Acts 5:29-32 “We must obey God rather than human beings!  The God of our ancestors<sup class="crossreference" value="(AN)”> raised Jesus from the dead<sup class="crossreference" value="(AO)”>—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.  God exalted him to his own right hand<sup class="crossreference" value="(AQ)”> as Prince and Savior<sup class="crossreference" value="(AR)”> that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.   We are witnesses of these things,<sup class="crossreference" value="(AT)”> and so is the Holy Spirit,<sup class="crossreference" value="(AU)”> whom God has given to those who obey him.”

     There is a debate as to what particular gift constitutes evidence of the Holy Spirit in a person.  Some insist that their doctrine is correct and salvation stands upon it.  Peter and the apostles, in trouble yet again lay out what is important; obedience, the simple Gospel, witness, Jesus our Savior, repentance and forgiveness.  Even in trouble before the high court Peter is preaching the Gospel!  And then Peter says an amazing thing –  God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Jesus.

     We now have a one hundred percent accurate test of the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person.  If your walk is in obedience to Jesus then you have the Holy Spirit.  If your life is a witness to the Gospel and your tongue is a witness to the Gospel then you walk in step with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus, Himself said; “If you love me, keep my commands.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”  (John 14:15-17)

     In this fallen world, we are restored by faith in Jesus when we believe and repent.   Our orientation in life is changed; “A truly repentant person will immediately begin striving to obey God. The changes that the individual makes in his life are the “fruits” that demonstrate that his repentance is genuine. This does not mean that the repentant sinner obeys God perfectly. Even those who have received the Holy Spirit do not obey God perfectly. It means that the individual has turned his life around and is oriented toward obeying God.”  (Forerunner Commentary

     Spiritual progress is the path of holiness  while spiritual perfection is the devil’s pride.  As Christians we stand on the promise of Scripture; ” . . . he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)  Our sanctification has nothing to do with our work, rather it is completely the work of the Holy Spirit in us.  What is it we must do? Paul tells us; “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:27)     

     Scripture puts all in perspective; “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”  (1 Corinthians 13:1 -3)

     Jesus said; “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34,35)  Let us follow Him!

     Praise the Lord

The Spirit Moves with His Mission

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Acts 4:31 “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”

     This occurred at an early church meeting right after Peter and John had a run in with the Sanhedrin about preaching and healing in Jesus’ name.  Peter and John told the Sanhedrin; “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”  (Acts 4: 19,20)  The Sanhedrin finally released them and when they returned to the fellowship, the church prayed; “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.” (Acts 4: 29,30)

     Like today, the early church was surrounded by a hostile religious and political establishment.  Unlike today, the early church met this hostility with boldness and faith.  Today, many churches under the leadership of worldly clerics seek the friendship of the world through compromise, while far too many other clergy silently look on.  Matthew Henry writes; “In threatening times, our care should not be so much that troubles may be prevented, as that we may go on with cheerfulness and courage in our work and duty. They do not pray, Lord let us go away from our work, now that it is become dangerous, but, Lord, give us thy grace to go on stedfastly in our work, and not to fear the face of man.”

     Not only did tongues come to the early church in the day of Pentecost; “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4)  The Holy Spirit brought boldness to preach the Gospel to the early church as well:  ” . . . they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.”  (Acts 4:31) Similar pattern, same Spirit, different evidence and all for the glory of God the Father!

     Jesus gave us a mission; “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) Jesus told us to share the Gospel; “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20)  This is a job where Jesus promises us He’ll be right along side every step of the way.

     The joy of this mission is that we are to simply witness to what we have seen and heard, like those in the early church.  Our honest and humble testimony about how Jesus lifted us up out of our pit will speak volumes to desperate people.  When we demonstrate the Power of the Cross in our lives with testimony and faith,  Jesus Himself will do the work;  “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32)

    Praise the Lord!

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