Acts


Acts 7-8 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He gives us the grace we need to reach the most hateful of men

Rising high in the center of beautiful Vienna is the extraordinary St. Stephen’s Cathedral, built in 1160.  It honors the deacon from the early church in Jerusalem, Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr and stoned by the Temple leaders because he believed that Jesus was the Messiah.  The Church is magnificent in its architecture and Gothic style, but its beauty could never be compared to the radiant face of Stephen as he saw the Lord and prayed as they stoned him, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ He fell to his knees, shouting, ‘Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!’ And with that, he died.” (7:59-60) 

@ Acts 8
Stephen preached a great sermon on the day he was killed and gave a historical account of the rejection of God and His Son by Israel’s religious leaders.  Little did he know that the message of Jesus would one day greatly impact one of the bystanders, “Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.” (1)  Saul was one of the haters.

When we step out in obedience to share the love of God in the marketplace, we may be surprised at who is listening to our message and at how it is impacting them.  I think of the story of Nicky Cruz and David Wilkerson.  In the late 1950’s, bold street evangelist David Wilkerson witnessed to the hardened gang members of New York City, and there in the gang was the hardest of them all, Nicky Cruz. Even though Nicky beat him and threatened his life, David expressed God’s great love for Nicky with the heart of one like Stephen, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!”

Nicky had a radical conversion, not unlike the Apostle Paul who earlier had approved of Stephen’s stoning.  Nicky went on to preach the Good News around the world drawing many gang members and lost souls to the Lord, and he still is preaching today about the transformation in his life.  As we know, Paul shook the world with his conversion and the Church of the Lord Jesus has never been the same.

We just can’t imagine the impact our witness will have in the lives of complete strangers when we are simply obedient to the Great Commission and present the Good News. No one is too bad, too lost or too hateful to be touched by God’s love through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Never shortchange Him!  It was Paul who said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.” (l Timothy 1:15-16) 

Moving Forward: I won’t let the hateful words or deeds of sinful men stop me from presenting the Good News to them. I may be reaching the next great evangelist!

Tomorrow @ James 1-3

Acts 5-6 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He will protect His own in ways we can’t imagine

Most of us remember individuals who have impacted our walk with the Lord, either introducing us to Him or guiding us along in our growth.  I am still able to visualize the precious woman who led the Children’s Church when I was five and six years old and also the dear sisters, Margie and Harriet, who directed Junior Children’s Church Sunday after Sunday.  Their Bible stories and commitment to the Lord spoke loudly to my young heart about what was really important in life.  No one has impacted my spiritual life more than my own mom who lived out the gospel that she testified about so boldly every day of her life.  I’m so thankful for this rich heritage of my faith, but I’m also thankful for a man I’ve never met whose words have indirectly impacted all of our lives today. 

@ Acts 5
As we read last week, the High Council of Jews did not know what to do with Peter and John and their bold witness for Christ.  The apostles continued to preach even though they were told not to do so and were arrested once again.  Then, they somehow escaped from jail and were once again on the streets preaching, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” (29)  There are religious zealots today with this same tenacity. Unfortunately, their goal is to destroy lives rather than save them.  I’ve wondered if I would have the same determination as the apostles to share Jesus with others if I faced the threat of death.  I pray that I would.

The High Council determined to kill the apostles until one of their own, the Pharisee Gamaliel, gave them cause to pause, “So my advice is, leave these men alone.  Let them go.  If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them.  You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” (38-39)

Way to go Gamaliel!  He more than likely thought this insurrection would die out, but I appreciate that he considered the possibility that it was from God.  He seemed to be the only voice of reason present that day, and because of it, the apostles lived and went on to establish a strong church in Jerusalem.  When this church was persecuted, it scattered and eventually the gospel reached all the way through the ages to me.

Since that time, many false prophets have threatened the church and caused us to be skeptical of any move of God that is different than what we have experienced; but at the same time, many true revivals have blessed and enriched the church.  When we are confronted with a new move or revival, we will do well to be cautious in our criticism and skepticism of it.  Instead, it would be wise to measure its message and its messengers by the Word of God rather than its style. If it is true and valid, we would not want to find ourselves “fighting against God!” 

Moving Forward:  Anything from you, Lord, I want it!  I don’t care how different it may seem to me, because if it’s from you, no man can overthrow it.

Tomorrow @ Hebrews 11-13

Acts 3-4 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  His miracles will change the hearts of men

Governmental elections bring the political parties out in full force.  They use every method that is legal, and otherwise, to get their candidates elected and do this to the point of ad nauseam.  Television ads, phone calls, mass mailings, and radio spots interrupt our lives each day and are only limited by the number of dollars available to spend.  The fervor rises to new heights when a candidate is able to stir up some dirt on his or her opponent. When this happens, the candidate’s political machine revs up to a damage-control mode, and the country’s brightest and best political minds devise a plan to keep lost votes to a minimum.

Watching all this take place is entertaining, to say the least, and would be funny if it wasn’t so very serious.  The same was true of some damage control that the Sanhedrin, the High Council of religious leaders, was engaged in after the healing of a certain lame man in our reading today. You gotta love it.

Peter and John, now full of the Holy Spirit, were on their way to worship at the Temple when God interrupted their journey with their first recorded miracle.  God chose to do this at the Temple gate called Beautiful, the most used and well-known gate of the Temple, and He decided to heal a well-known lame beggar at the gate. Obviously, God was out to stir up a little trouble for His opponents.

It wasn’t a quiet little healing to where Peter and John could discreetly proceed on their way to worship.  No, the healed beggar “jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk!  Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.” (3:8)  The noise and commotion, as well as the apparent miracle, had drawn a crowd, and Peter, the preacher that he was, could not resist presenting the message of Jesus Christ.  In a matter of minutes, a couple of thousand men plus women and children were added to the church.

This was no political rally, but that was somewhat how the High Council saw it.  One would think that religious leaders would be interested in a bona fide miracle, but they were more interested in who was getting the credit for it – and that would be Jesus.  Now it was time for damage control.  After interviewing Peter and John, this was their concern and strategy, “What should we do with these men?” they asked each other. “We can’t deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it. But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.” (4:16-17)

“What should we do with these men?”  During a political season, I imagine that men in backrooms ponder this same question regarding Christians and their values. They will devise schemes to dilute and nullify our influence in electing men and women who will govern our nation with Godly values and laws.  But Peter and John were not damage controlled, and neither should we be!

“As soon as they were freed, Peter and John returned to the other believers and told them what the leading priests and elders had said.  When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God…O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word.  Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (29-30)  Then the Holy Spirit came and shook up the place, and the Church was on fire!  With His fire in the house, no one was worried about the enemy and its damage control. 

Moving Forward: I pray those who oppose our message will be threatened enough to ask, “What should we do with these Christians?”  I pray we will have the boldness of Peter and John to speak for our values and that all believers will lift their voices together in prayer to God because that is what will make a difference in the hearts of men. And, we’ll take some of that fire! 

Tomorrow @ Hebrews 8-10

Acts 1-2 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He has promised us a gift, and He keeps His promises! 

The check is in the mail, the package is on its way, or any similar promise will send us running to the mailbox each day until it arrives.  I was working on a project one time and needed additional resources, so I contacted an individual with the information and heard the promise, “It’s in the mail.”  After several days, I realized that it wasn’t.  Quite upset by this, random thoughts flooded my mind about the possible hazards in starting one’s car or 1000 camels, but then who hasn’t failed at one time or another to keep a promise?  Well, the answer to that would be God – He always keeps His promises!

@Acts 1 – It’s in the mail!
“Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before.  John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (4)  Jesus reminded the disciples before He left for Heaven that the promised gift would soon arrive.  I think Luke, the writer of Acts, was the perfect believer chosen to give us the historical account of Pentecost and the early church.  As a doctor, his writing may not have been very legible to those who had to transcribe his words, but he sure did manage to present a methodical and descriptive accounting of the early church. He let readers know from the start that this baptism in the Holy Spirit was not some fluke.  It was promised by God, and it was expected!

Jesus went on to explain what this Holy Spirit baptism was all about, “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.”(8) Power!  The disciples would be receiving power, taken from the Greek word dunamis where we get our word dynamite.  I, for one, am hesitant to receive a gift of dynamite, but if it’s coming from the Holy Ghost, bring it on!  The baptism of the Holy Spirit is explosive power, empowering us to be an unstoppable force, obliterating darkness around the world and spreading the light of the Gospel.  Have we used our dynamite power today? 

@Acts 2 – Promise Delivered!
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (1-4)  God’s promised gift was delivered!  The power of the Holy Spirit was the gift and speaking in other tongues was the evidence that the gift had been delivered, the Delivery Confirmation if you will.

The Holy Spirit plays so many roles in our life – convicter, comforter, counselor and teacher – just to name a few, but in Acts 2, He is our baptizer. Has your Gift been delivered – with your Delivery Confirmation?

Moving Forward: I’m so thankful to have received God’s promised gift long ago, but I’m reminded that it’s not a gift to be placed on a shelf.  It’s a powerful gift to be used every day in sharing His Gospel. 

Tomorrow @ Hebrews 5-7

Acts 26-28 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: One holy night long ago He sent His presence to abide with us

Selling a home, especially in today’s market, can be tricky business.  Through the years, I’ve had several home sellers tell me that their home sold before they even had it on the market or shortly thereafter, and this miracle was God’s stamp of approval on their upcoming move or change.  I’m always at a momentary loss of words at this point. The two beautiful homes we owned in the past took months and months to sell even though well priced.  Does this mean we were moving outside of God’s will?

Knowing that we were in God’s will is what carried us along during those difficult months.  And this begs the question in our reading today – Was Paul out of God’s will when he insisted his case be tried in Rome?  The hardships he incurred on the way to Rome were extraordinary, but in spite of it all, he ultimately answered God’s call to preach to the Romans.  As we celebrate Christmas, another question comes to mind. Were the difficulties, then, that Mary and Joseph faced at the time of Jesus’ birth an indication that God was not with them?

@ Acts 27-28
Paul was under armed guard as they set sail for Rome, and the trip was treacherous to say the least.  A violent tempest tossed the ship for days, and Paul’s life was threatened as the soldiers attempted to kill the prisoners rather than risk their getting free in the storm. When they finally ended up shipwrecked on the island of Malta, miraculously not one life was lost.  If this wasn’t enough peril, Paul was bitten by a deadly viper, yet not even a mark remained.

“Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him… Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” (28:16,30-31)  The sailing was not smooth, the house did not sell, but God was with Paul on his trip to Rome and his mission was accomplished.  Paul preached the gospel to the Romans. 

@ Luke 2
“Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloth, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (4-8)

Having just accepted the unbelievable truth of an Immaculate Conception, Joseph and pregnant Mary traveled the difficult road to Bethlehem to find there was no lodging available.  Then Mary went into labor and gave birth to the Messiah, the very Son of God…in a stable.  And, if that wasn’t trial enough, the king tried to kill their son.  With all these difficulties, some would say that this couple was out of the will of God and perhaps this Holy Spirit conception was a farce.  And they would, of course, be wrong.

Now, some 2,000 years later we honor this glorious birth as we sing, “Joy to the World,” “The First Noel” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”  We join with the multitude of the heavenly host praising God and say:  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (14)

As with Paul, Joseph and Mary and so many others who have gone before us, the path to our future may not be always smooth sailing, and we may find ourselves in difficult situations from time to time. However, there is one thing we can be certain of today in our celebration of Christ’s coming to this earth and it is that He is with us.  As we travel His path, He is with us.  Merry Christmas, fellow travelers! 

Moving Forward:  “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” He has come, and He is with me as I travel life’s path. 

Tomorrow @ Jude

Acts 23-25 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He enables us to fulfill our calling

Even though lawyers are often the target of jokes and ridicule, we evidently enjoy observing them work.  At any time of the day, we can watch them wax eloquent in the courts of justice on the ever popular Law and Order, Matlock or the original defender of the accused, Perry Mason.  With so many injustices in the world, apparently seeing justice reign supreme for an hour does our hearts good.

The Apostle Paul was accused of several crimes by the Jewish leaders and spent some time in court himself, but he didn’t hire a high profile overpaid attorney to defend him.  It seems he offered his own defense, and the case moved along in just the direction he wanted it to move.  From scripture we know that Paul was a great defender, not only of himself, but of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

@ Acts 23
“Gazing intently at the high council, Paul began: ‘Brothers, I have always lived before God with a clear conscience!’ Instantly Ananias the high priest commanded those close to Paul to slap him on the mouth. But Paul said to him, ‘God will slap you, you corrupt hypocrite!  What kind of judge are you to break the law yourself by ordering me struck like that?’” (1-3)  I’m not very savvy about courtroom etiquette, but I’m fairly certain that calling the judge a corrupt hypocrite was not proper protocol. Even though the judge was out of line in his command, Paul did not defend his words to him but quickly apologized, “I’m sorry, brothers. I didn’t realize he was the high priest,’ Paul replied, ‘for the Scriptures say, “You must not speak evil of any of your rulers.’” (5)  For Paul, it was prudent to move to the matter at hand.

“Brothers, I am a Pharisee, as were my ancestors! And I am on trial because my hope is in the resurrection of the dead!” (6)  With this the courtroom became volatile – Pharisees who believed in the resurrection against Sadducees who did not and everyone calling for the death of Paul.  Paul had a knack for stirring the pot.  I can imagine the judge’s gravel demanded a call to order but with little effect.  Fearing for Paul’s life, the Commander in charge whisked him away to safety to stand before the court in Caesarea and Governor Felix. 

@ Acts 24
Regardless of the plans of the Jewish leaders and the Roman government, Paul was on a mission to present the gospel.  His defense was not for his own life, but for the sake of the mission that Jesus confirmed to him in the lonely jail as he awaited trial, “Be encouraged, Paul. Just as you have been a witness to me here in Jerusalem, you must preach the Good News in Rome as well.” (11)  The high priest, Felix, Festus and the angry mob were all witnesses, pawns of God, in the case against Paul.  The Roman jail was his destiny and preaching the gospel to the Romans was his heartbeat.  When Paul appealed to Caesar, the courtroom moved to none other than Rome.

In the meantime, his case held him in Palestine for over two years, and Paul used every opportunity to share about the very One who was the cause for the charges against him.  The ruling governors, the Jewish leaders and finally King Agrippa heard the message of Jesus Christ.  At the end of the day, Paul was not guilty of any of the trumped up charges by the Jewish leaders except one and he boldly admitted to it, “These men cannot prove the things they accuse me of doing. But I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult. I worship the God of our ancestors.” (13-14)

I, too, boldly admit that I follow the Way, the gospel of Jesus, and I pray that the evidence is strong enough to convict me.  As in Paul’s day, some may not like it and may bring distractions and accusations my way. However, as a believer in Jesus, I am commissioned with a message of hope to our world just as Paul was.  And let the chips fall where they may. 

Moving Forward:  Today if someone accuses me of being a Christian, I’ll declare, “I follow the Way!”  And just like Paul, I’ll take the opportunity to tell that someone all about it. 

Tomorrow @ 3 John

Acts 21-22 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He places a resolve in yielded hearts to do His will

I know several missionary families that have left the comforts of home to travel and live in dangerous parts of the world.  Some met with opposition from family and friends at their decision to do so; but with resolve, they moved forward in obedience to God.  Paul, the greatest missionary that has ever lived, faced some opposition in his decision to return to Jerusalem.  When prophets shared a word from the Lord to discourage him from going to Jerusalem, Paul stuck to his resolve.  Was he right?

@ Acts 21
“We went ashore, found the local believers, and stayed with them a week. These believers prophesied through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem.” (4)  “Several days later a man named Agabus, who also had the gift of prophecy, arrived from Judea. He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, ‘The Holy Spirit declares, “So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.”’ When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” (10-12)

This was Paul’s resolve in response to their warnings, “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lies ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” (20:22-24) And so it is with the missionaries that preach the gospel around the world.  They are bound by the Spirit who calls them, and their lives are worth nothing unless they do the work God has assigned them.  Those who love them must understand this.

Were the prophets who warned Paul in error?  Let me just say that the life of the prophet can be as difficult as the life of the missionary.  The responsibility of the prophet to speak only what God has revealed to them, without their personal input and interpretation is a challenge.  Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 5:20-21, “Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said.  Hold on to what is good.”  God had revealed truth to the dear brethren who were warning Paul about his trip to Jerusalem, but how he should respond to that truth was between Paul and the Lord.

“Even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture.” (I Corinthians 13:9) Only part of God’s plans for Paul had been revealed to the prophets, and there was a higher purpose in Paul’s trip to Jerusalem.  It was the first step toward his movement to Rome, God’s final purpose and destination for Paul.  Bound by the Spirit, Paul was moving ahead in his calling.

“Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus.’  When it was clear that we couldn’t persuade him, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’  After this we packed our things and left for Jerusalem.”(21:13-15) Paul’s companions were not going to desert him now.  They would give aid, comfort and support to Paul to accomplish his mission.

How could we do any less for those we love who are fulfilling God’s calling on their lives?  To parents, support the calling God has placed on the lives of your children no matter how difficult.  To children, support the calling God has placed on the lives of your parents regardless of personal desires – He will reward you.  The very least we can do for those bound by the Spirit to do God’s will is to not hinder them, and God will bless all our efforts to support and enable them. 

Moving Forward:  Bound by the Spirit to present the gospel, may we not be hindered or discouraged by those who see only part of the picture. 

Tomorrow @ 2 John

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