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Times have changed

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Acts 14:15-17 “We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

     After Paul healed a man with crippled feet the crowd wanted to worship him and Barnabas as gods.  They took it into their heads that Paul was Hermes and Barnabas was Zeus.  They gathered as a crowd to offer sacrifices to them.  Paul tried to set the record straight and convince them of their error.  It was very difficult to convince the crowd.  Later under agitation from some Jews, the crowd stoned  Paul and left him for dead.

     Times have changed.  Jesus brought mankind the Gospel and gave Himself as a sacrifice to save us.  Jesus tells us; “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3: 16,17)

     God sent Jesus to turn on His light in our dark world so we could see clearly; “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John3:19)  There is no excuse for stumbling around in the dark anymore.  Since Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection we have one standard for all:  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)

     This message is as well received today as it was in Paul’s day.  It makes many many people very very angry.  The world without Jesus has always been inclined to darkness; “. . . they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (1 Peter 4:4,5,6)

     At Mars’ hill Paul addressed the people speaking to them about the ‘unknown god’ that they included among their pantheon of idols; “I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” (Acts 17:23)  It seems to be a universal tendency in people to propitiate their useless god(s) with empty sacrifices in order to tame them to their sins.   Even those who claim some kind of Christianity are not immune and prefer to keep God at a distance not to know Him but simply to possess His reputation; “. . . are there not many now called Christians, who are zealous in their devotions, yet the great object of their worship is to them an unknown God?” (Matthew Henry)

     Again Paul tells the people that times have changed;  “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”  (Acts 17:30,31)   When we make idols of our pastors, dead saints, and ‘super apostle’ celebrities, we do this to our damnation.  To eclipse Jesus with intermediaries (be they people or ideas) is to make Him unknown again which is a futile rebellious attempt to turn back the clock.  It makes us far worse than the heathen who came before Jesus’ time on earth.

     God said; “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2:3)  Jesus said; “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)  Times have changed and we are accountable to Jesus.  He saves  and He will judge!

     Praise the Lord!

In one accord!

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Acts 2:1 “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.”

     Not only would the early church – about 150 people be gathered as per Jesus’ instructions ( Acts 1:15) but a great many devout Jews would have come in from all parts of the world to take part in this Jewish feast. In the opening verse of Acts Chapter 2 we read of the early church gathered together for Pentecost – which for the Jewish people was a feast that came 50 days after the Passover. A commentary tells us that; “Among the Jews it was a applied to one of their three great feasts which began on the 50th day after the Passover.” (Barnes’ Notes)

     The Holy Spirit works where His people are assembled and waiting on the Lord in one accord; “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2) When the Holy Spirit comes to an assembly or to an individual to prepare and equip we can’t make total sense of it because we are limited humans. At Pentecost the church experienced a sound like a rushing mighty wind. A mighty rushing wind overpowers any self-justification or excuses – leaving room only for the Holy Spirit to speak into a person’s spirit. Immediately attention is removed from the self and directed towards the Almighty. This is a telling mark of a visitation of the Holy Spirit upon a person or a church body – you’re not thinking of your own prideful self anymore!

     In my own life when the Holy Spirit came upon me for the first time it was awesome in the truest sense of the word – (not a warm and fuzzy experience) – “In one terrible instant God granted me a vision of the enormity of my depravity and where it would lead. He brought me to my knees. It all happened in a moment yet it seemed like an eternity – my prayer changed completely. From then on, my prayer was a plea for His mercy for my son and for me! I asked God to bring my son back – to heal the rift between us. I asked God to help me love my son His way.” My ministry started with equipping for prayer – pure and powerful! Equipping isn’t about a particular gift – it’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ and trusting in His promise that His Holy Spirit will comfort, guide and lead you in your witness and daily life.

     The early church was equipped for communicate on in a world without the internet or common place reading or writing. A message was passed from person to person by mouth with the tongue. The book of Acts describes the equipping; “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:3,4) Of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit what was most needed at that gathering of people from all the corners of the world? Remember Jesus’ mission to the church; “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

     This equipping was evident to the world as well as the eyewitnesses who recorded this event in Scripture: ”And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? . . . we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:5,6,7,8-11) Galilaeans were not known for their education or abilities to communicate a message. Barnes’ Notes tells us: “They were regarded as an outlandish people, unacquainted with other nations and languages, and hence, the amazement that they could address them in the refined language of other people. Their native ignorance was the occasion of making the miracle more striking.”

     And so like the world and everything carnal in us after the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work and equipping we try to explain it away; “ And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.” (Acts 2: 12,13) The Apostle Peter spoke up with reason in the face of the disbelief; “But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.” (Acts 2:14,15)

     And as much as the world would like to deny the truth – change can’t be explained away! Peter was a changed man. The disciples went from being rough, crude and poorly spoken men to ardent preachers of His Gospel. Peter went from the timid fearful man who denied Jesus to a bold preacher of the Risen Christ. That day Peter spoke to the crowd and his witness brought about 3000 people into fellowship with Jesus and His church (Acts 2:41).

     Later in the book of acts we see even the Pharisees would recognize Peter’s new boldness for Jesus when he confronted them; “Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12)

     The Pharisees were flabbergasted; “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) Some say that the time of this kind of powerful gifting from the Holy Spirit has passed – it isn’t needed anymore. I don’t agree with that. Like Peter said to the Pharisees who were trying to ‘shut them up’; “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) I’ve experienced and seen too much of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment and healing gifts to shut up about them.

     Jesus promised us that the Holy Spirit would always be there for us; “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” ( John 14:26) Jesus said He had to return to Heaven so that the Holy Spirit could come to us; “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” (John 16:7) The Acts of the Holy Spirit in His church have not ceased! How do I know this? Because the Bible tells me so! Because I have experienced the Holy Spirit’s comfort and help over and over again. I take Jesus at His Word – God’s Word is far far better than money in the bank!

     Remember the mission and promise given to us by Jesus; “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”( Matthew 28:19,20)

     The presence of His Holy Spirit in us cannot be more evident as when we point to Him and lift Him high in our lives as He commanded us to do!

     Praise the Lord!

Peace with God – speak His Word!

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Acts 10:36 “This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.”

     Peter is speaking to Cornelius, a Gentile who was about to accept this message along with his entire household.  The Gospel is for everyone – Jew and Gentile;   “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)  The Gospel is for men and women in all walks of life; “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)  The Gospel is an equal opportunity message.

     When we share the Gospel we must realize that people hear it differently.  A person’s specific needs and the context of their life shape the sensitivity of their hearing.  Cornelius was a centurion – a devout man with authority and under authority (Easton’s Bible Dictionary)  Like the centurion who came to Jesus for help- his faith was simple, direct and ‘no frills’;  “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Matthew 8:9)

     Peter introduced the Gospel to this military man of authority and action by outlining the terms of surrender  – ‘peace with God through Jesus Christ who is Lord of all’.  True warriors don’t fight for war they fight for peace and submit to the truth of it.  Military men know that peace comes with a price and the Gospel tells us that peace with God came through the shed blood of His Son; “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) 

     All men are intensely interested in meeting the challenges of life and overcoming.  The desire to provide, succeed and come to terms with a hostile world that offers no any real sense of meaning drives a man.  This has been  so since the fall;  “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

     Women  desire intimacy and relationship and have since the fall; “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)  Sadly for both men and women, legalistic rule and exploitation has emptied worldly relationships of intimacy.  Yet such is the context we live in and the Gospel addresses the context of our lives.  Jesus knew this.  It was His mission to bring us the Good News; “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free . . . ” (Luke 4:18)

     The Samaritan woman at the well responded to Jesus because He spoke to her within the context of her life; “The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, ‘Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ Then they went out of the city and came to Him.” (John 4:28-30)   When we bring the Gospel to people where they live they naturally want to hear more.  All of  humanity since the fall searches for peace with God even if many can’t put it into words or don’t even know such a thing exists.  We are made in His image (Genesis 1:27) and we will long to see His image of hope and peace in every reflection of our trials and troubles.  If we can’t see Him or make out His image we feel empty!

     When we share the Gospel we must speak into the lives of the people listening to this message.  There is a temptation to speak out of our own fancies and predilections.  God has equipped us with His Word and the Holy Spirit to help us with this mission; “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26)

     God knows who you are talking to – Let Him do the talking.

    Praise the Lord!

    

Unity – Love’s evangelism

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John 17:20-23 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”

     The Unity of the body of Christ signifies God’s presence in this body.  This unity affirms Jesus as sent by God and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in His church.  This unity signifies God’s love for His church to the world.  No wonder Satan does everything he can to draw people away from God’s Word so he can splinter the church and create division. Then Satan uses a false call to a false unity to the soulish and carnal doctrines of the worldly church.  That is his strategy – to split with lies and bind together with lies thereby creating an unholy monstrous parody of the true church.

     Jesus knew this would happen.  Barnes’ Notes states; “He saw the danger of strifes and contentions in the church. He knew the imperfections of even the best of men. He saw how prone they would be to passion and ambition; how ready to mistake love of sect or party for zeal for pure religion; how selfish and worldly men in the church might divide his followers, and produce unholy feeling and contention; and he saw, also, how much this would do to dishonor religion.” 

     Matthew Henry describes the essentials of true unity; “The real holiness of all true Christians is the fruit of Christ’s death, by which the gift of the Holy Ghost was purchased; he gave himself for his church, to sanctify it. If our views have not this effect on us, they are not Divine truth, or we do not receive them by a living and a working faith, but as mere notions.”

     Jesus said the mark of a true disciple is obedience to His Word; ” If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed: . . . ” (John 8:31)  Love for Jesus is evident in obedience to His Word; “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)  And this unity in His Word would be the true basis of love for each other and a sign to the world; “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)

     The carnal church has multiplied itself into many, many, many disciples of diverse and divisive doctrines.  Worldly super-apostles now enrich themselves by calling for a ‘new unity on essentials’ to bring the church back into a kind of  ‘wholeness’; “If Christians ignore the Lord’s call to unity, they risk ignoring the Lord Himself and the salvation He offers through His Body, the Church: ‘there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name … by which we must be saved.’”  (Message to the World Council of Churches)  Who could possibly find fault with such nice notions.

     The Bible tells us that God offered salvation to mankind through His Son – Jesus Christ  (John 3:16) not the Church.  And Jesus Christ is the only name by which we are saved; “He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11,12)  This has always been the true unity built on His Word.

       Nice worldly notions just don’t cut through the dirt and lies of Satan’s dominion rather they add to it.  It was and is Jesus’ prayer that we be sanctified through the truth of His Word;  “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:17-21)

    This is Love’s evangelism!

    Praise the Lord!
    

The Holy Spirit comes

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Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

     Every Christian’s life will have such an experience – what was yours? Every Christian’s life has a lead up to this empowerment – a waiting and staying still in obedience – the obedience makes the waiting possible and prepares a person for the empowerment. The collective unity of this spiritual reality makes His church real, relative and active not just then but now!

     And with that – Jesus was taken up; “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:9) The disciples just stood there looking up; “And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel . . . “ (Acts 1:10) This is a very human response – How often we tend to tarry looking upwards – waiting to be fed when we should be looking around for opportunities to feed the world with His Word – that was His mission that he gave to us. Perhaps yearning just to have Jesus with us because we are not ready to accept His mission and all that it requires of us.

     These two angels brought everyone back to ‘reality’; “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) To me these angels were saying; “Don’t just stand there GET AT IT! He’ll be back expecting you to be doing His will”.

      Barnes’ Notes exhorts us to our task; “We may see here also that it is our duty not to stand in idleness, and to gaze even toward heaven. We, as well as the apostles, have a great work to do, and we should actively engage in it without delay.” Spreading the Word is not an option! We need to look around for opportunity to share with help, compassion and encouragement – sometimes with words but always with actions. We want Jesus to restore everything and do the work – Yet clearly the Book of Acts tells us that we are to be equipped to be His hands and feet in this world.

     With Jesus’ ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem and did as they were told; “Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey. And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” (Acts 1:12-14) The beginning of unity is in simple obedience, prayer and supplication.

    Chapter 1 of Acts tells us just as much about our church as it does about the early church. It tells us about the equipping for ministry and the hindrances to this ministry we all are called to. When we look to our own interests we are not serving His. Looking upwards and waiting for the Holy Spirit’s empowerment is the beginning of our witness. The vertical relationship of the cross drives out the control of selfishness in our lives. Self-interest isn’t the way of the cross. Through the Holy Spirit’s work in us we are prepared to take on the horizontal and relational building up of His church in the world.

     The Holy Spirit’s power and equipping makes the difference between being a mere fan of Christianity and being a disciple of Jesus Christ. We can have a good opinion of Jesus and the church but that falls far short of the life changing conviction that the Holy Spirit works in us when we finally stop looking in the wrong directions and start really listening to His Word in our lives. When we believe His Word and trust Him enough to live it out we truly have something to say to others about Christianity.

     Lip service comes from being a fan while the Holy Spirit’s conviction gives us real testimony of His Work in our lives. Discipleship begins where the former leaves off and the latter takes over!

Praise the Lord!

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