Acts


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

Acts 19-20 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He blesses us when we share the message of Jesus

Several years ago we took a team of youth to a city in Paraguay to help a pastor establish the first evangelical church in the community.  Expectations were high as our team distributed invitations throughout the city to attend the nightly Tent Crusade and as they prepared their skits and testimonies.

What we didn’t know was that in response to the success of a previous team, the religious leaders of the city who had ruled for over 150 years threatened the success of our mission.  They informed the townspeople that education would be denied the children of any families that attended the Tent. The enemy doesn’t like it when the message of a personal relationship with Jesus invades his domain. 

@ Acts 19
Paul had spent three years in Ephesus establishing a strong church in this city known for its occult practices.  “God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles.  When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.” (11-12)  God demonstrated His great Holy power to people who looked to the mystical and supernatural, and we should never limit what God will use to reach the lost of our world. However, all was not a bed of roses for the believers of Ephesus.

“About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis…‘Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business.  But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all.’” (23-26)  The bottom line – Demetrius was losing money because the Ephesians were receiving Christ and no longer needing his idols.  We learn Demetrius was not only a successful businessman, but he also had a knack for inciting riots.

“At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheater…” (28-29)  The amphitheater held 25,000, so imagine the t-shirts sold that day!  A mob mentality took over to the point, “Everything was in confusion.  In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there.” (32)  Whenever confusion is present, we can be confident that the enemy is close at hand.  Ultimately, a politician, of all things, brought calm to the scene that day, the lives of Paul and his companions were spared, and the church in Ephesus moved forward.

This story answers the question – Is the enemy threatened by our message of Jesus Christ to our world?  Yes, however, Paul did not storm the Temple of Diana or berate her followers.  He simply presented the gospel of Jesus, and its power changed the lives of many Ephesians.  The fear of our message in the town in Paraguay was a threat to the religious leaders because they had seen lives changed that no longer needed to pay for their atonement.  Only a handful braved the edict from the town leaders to attend our services; but undaunted by this news, our team fasted and prayed for a breakthrough and held nightly services as if the tent was packed with people.

As the nights progressed, we noticed people sitting on the fringes of the property listening to the music, so we brought the music out to them.  Before long they were singing and clapping and eventually joined us in the Tent.  We had a great crusade with many accepting the Lord as their Savior because the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is more powerful than any other force.

When we tell the simple message of Jesus to our neighbors, families, and co-workers, we may experience some persecution because it is a threat to the enemy of man’s soul.  Sometimes it’s not easy to take, but be encouraged.  It means we are doing something right, and the enemy considers us a threat.  Jesus said, “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right…Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.” (Matthew 5:10,12)  He would know. 

Moving Forward: I’m so thankful for the power of the gospel to change the hearts of men and for His power to stop the enemy’s threats. 

Tomorrow @ I John 4-5

Acts 17-18 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is the known God; and in Him, all things exist

A somber moment in my life was a visit to Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  It’s a monument that honors fallen soldiers of war whose remains had not been identified but who are our heroes just the same.  We would never want to miss out on the opportunity to honor and remember those who so valiantly gave their lives for our freedom.  The Greeks of Paul’s day had a monument to an “Unknown” as well because these pantheistic Greeks did not want to miss out on an opportunity to honor and worship all gods.   In Paul’s visit to Athens, he let them know exactly who their unknown god really was. 

@ Acts 17
“So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: ‘Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.” (22-23)

Paul didn’t try to impress the council with his exhaustive knowledge of Jewish history, but he talked in terms that were relevant to his listeners.  He talked to them about the attributes of the true and living God they had not yet discovered but who was the God of their search.  They had reserved a place for God in their thinking but could not put a name or face to Him, so Paul did his best to enlighten them.

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since He is Lord of heaven and earth, He doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve His needs—for He has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.” (24-25) In Verse 16 we learn that Paul was deeply troubled by the many idols he saw everywhere in the city of Athens, but the God they were seeking could not be put on a shelf or displayed on an altar.  Men could not create God in their own fashion because God is the creator “who made the world and everything in it.”

Our world today is similar to Paul’s day in Athens.  Men today are searching for the “unknown” to fill their deep longings inside.  They talk about and worship a God that they do not know, or they create a god that sits on a shelf to serve their purposes when needed.  The true and living God will never live inside the definition of man’s understanding of Him.  Many individuals want to create a God that fits their own image of Him. Paul added, “For in HIM we live and move and exist,” and it’s not the other way around. (28)

Our job is to bring an understanding of God through the message of Jesus Christ to those we meet each day.  The Holy Spirit’s role is to help us present a relevant message and to touch the hearts of our listeners.  Of course, it’s difficult for us to talk about someone who is unknown to us or to share a testimony we don’t have.  God expects us to be informed and equipped just as Paul was in his day to combat the darkness in our world. 

Moving Forward:  My very existence today is in HIM, and my every move is by HIM. I pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to share this truth with others today. 

Tomorrow @ I John 1-3

Acts 15-16 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He guides our decisions through His Word and godly leadership

I really look forward to the biennial meeting of the ministers in my fellowship from churches all across the United States.  It’s a great time to visit with old friends and make new friends from all over the country.  We eat together, shop together and talk for hours about our lives, the ministry, and the future.  The evening services are inspirational, encouraging and they challenge us to reach more souls with the gospel. What I must admit is that I don’t enjoy the business sessions, a primary purpose of the General Council meeting.

In these business meetings as well as those on a state level, I’ve observed a few men and women through the years act in a way that should have been an embarrassment to them.  Fortunately, I’ve seen godly leadership respond with grace and wisdom in these situations, and decisions were made in a calm and friendly atmosphere…for the most part. That being said, I still rather spend my time visiting with a friend over a cup of coffee or walking around the huge exhibition hall receiving free pens, mints, and other good stuff, but I guess somebody has to do the business. 

@ Acts 15
Well, a little altercation had developed in the early church, and it was causing some dissension within the body of believers.  Some were insisting that Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised like the Jewish Christians.  They were calling for strict adherence to the Old Testament laws.  Paul and Barnabas, who were out on the front lines, strongly disagreed with this requirement.  “So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue.  At the meeting, after a long discussion…” (6)  Yes, welcome to the first General Council!

The main contributors to this discussion were James and Peter, elders of the church in Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabas, missionary evangelists.  Paul and Barnabas, who were in the trenches ministering to the Greeks and others, had come to accept the Gentiles as is.

Peter’s very liberating experience with Cornelius earlier in Acts 10 had softened his heart to the acceptance of Gentiles, “God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?” (8-11)  According to Peter, circumcision was not going to change God’s love and acceptance of the Gentiles.  Let’s hear it for sound reason in a business meeting!

James, who had been a strict Palestinian Jew and who was apparently the leader of this Council, could have been the sticking point in this discussion, but instead, he only proved his godly spirit-led character.  “When they had finished, James stood and said, ‘Brothers, listen to me. Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself…And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.’” (13-14,19)   All were in agreement, and the matter was settled.  Letters confirming the agreement were delivered throughout the church world. “And there was great joy throughout the church that day as they read this encouraging message.” (31)

This agreement not only affected the church world at that time but also right up to today.  Godly men discussed and reasoned together according to scripture. (16-18) From what we read, it appears there were no politicians or agenda-driven dialogues to cloud the issue or bring division.  I think I could have handled this business meeting and would have been blessed for having been there.   However, at this juncture in church history, I wonder if women were welcomed in the dialogue.  Just as the decision that day, change and acceptance can be good. 

Moving Forward:  I’m thankful for our early church leaders and for leaders today who listen to all sides and make godly decisions to bless the church.

Tomorrow @ 2 Peter

Acts 13-14 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He gives His Holy Spirit to guide our mission in life

When we set out on a mission to buy a new product of any kind, we’re the most successful when we do our homework first.  We check the advertising flyers and then visit the store to touch and hold the product.  Or we scour the internet for consumer reports, special sales and anything that will inform us about the product.  Really, a savvy consumer would not depend on impulse or guesswork to complete a mission like this.  However, as believers, we are on a mission every day, and so often we don’t take the time to do our homework.

Whether we choose to accept it or not, the Gospels present to us our mission, the Great Commission, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” (Mark 16:15)  When we step out into our world each day, how prepared are we to accomplish our mission? 

@ Acts 13
It’s only right that Paul, the Great Evangelist, the great consumer of souls, would serve as the template for our mission. “One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them’…So Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit… Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (2,4,9)  Paul did his homework!  He spent time in prayer, worship and fasting to where his will was surrendered to God’s will.  He was filled with the Holy Spirit to where his steps were surrendered to God’s steps.

Throughout Acts, we read how God guided Paul to the right place at the right time. “On the Sabbath [Paul and Barnabas] went to the synagogue for the services.  After the usual readings from the books of Moses and the prophets, those in charge of the service sent them this message: “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, come and give it.” (15)  I just love when God opens the doors for our mission.  When we are led by the Holy Spirit, we see the open doors, His set-ups, and walk right through them to present the Gospel.

Sometimes we are hindered by the response we receive on our mission.  Once again, Paul was not threatened by the reaction of his listeners.  Many people, especially Gentiles, accepted his message and received the Lord as their Savior, but many others rejected his message to the point of physical attack, “They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead.” (14:19)  Paul was not responsible for the response of his listeners.

It’s our responsibility to present the Gospel, and it’s the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to touch the hearts of men.  Of course, when we surrender our day to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we have Him right there with us, partnering in our mission.  We need not be discouraged when our message is rejected because we have no idea where the Holy Spirit will take it in those hostile lives.  Remember, Paul was present at Stephen’s stoning.  Every day we are challenged to accept our mission, do our homework and follow through with unhindered tenacity. 

Moving Forward: Yes, I’ll accept my mission today. Yes, I will do my homework.  And yes, I will tenaciously complete my mission just like any savvy shopper would do.

Tomorrow @ I Peter 4-5

Acts 11-12 (NLT)

Discover His heart:  He calls us to be His followers regardless of the cost

I really dislike labeling, for the most part. Of course, I don’t mean the labeling on my files or canned goods, and I must admit I enjoy an upscale label or two on my clothing.  I don’t appreciate labeling people or people groups because our labels are often judgmental and confining.  However, there is one label you can give me all day long, and that is Christian.  A Christian by definition is a believer in Jesus Christ as Savior. Unfortunately, in the jargon of today, I’m not certain what is meant by the term Christian.

“Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.)” (11:25-26)  For many, the term Christian has become a generic term for anyone who is not a pagan, but the New Testament Christian was much more than a label, “About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church.  He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter.” (12:1-3)  In the early church, professing to be Christian was life-threatening!

I remember reading the interesting conversation between Jesus and the Sons of Thunder, James and John, “Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do us a favor.’ ‘What is your request?’ He asked. They replied, ‘When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You don’t know what you are asking!  Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?’…‘Oh yes,’ they replied, ‘we are able!’” (Mark 10:35-39) And, of course, they did drink from that cup.  Peter said to Jesus, “I’m ready to die for you,” (John 13:37) and he did.  These disciples were Christians to the death. There were many early Christian martyrs who were tortured for their faith, like Stephen and like Polycarp who declared to his death, “I am Christian!”

Many individuals in this century also who know what it means to be Christian. I met a young woman from a Muslim country who accepted Jesus as her Savior.  She was forced to run to save her life because her father was ordered to kill her.  She was now living in a foreign country, no home, no job, but said to me in her broken English and with tears in her eyes “I love my Jesus so much. I never forsake Him.”  She is Christian.

Jesus explained the walk of a Christian in Matthew 10:37-39, “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”  The words of Jesus beg the question, “Am I Christian?”

Moving Forward:  More determined than ever, I declare today I am Christian.  I understand the meaning.  No wavering, no hesitation.  I am Christian. 

Tomorrow @ I Peter 1-3

Acts 9-10 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: God uses our difficult experiences to touch the hearts of others

When we receive salvation and follow the Lord, we make a decisive break from the old way of life, the old way of doing things.  We become new creatures, yet we bring along with us memories from our experiences in life to date.  God is faithful to help us move past the difficult moments we’ve experienced so that we can look forward to better days ahead, but He doesn’t always remove all painful memories and feelings.  He has a purpose in this.  Paul is a great example of how our past experiences can serve God’s greater purpose for our lives. 

@ Acts 9
“Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.  So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.” (1-2)  When we think about hateful leaders and individuals throughout history who murdered Christians for their faith, we might as well throw Saul into the mix because he was one of them.  Talk about painful memories and feelings.

Better than just about anyone, Paul understood the hearts of those who were blinded to the truth about Jesus.  Highly educated and qualified, Paul made his appeal for Christ to the Jewish leaders, to government leaders and to Jews and Gentiles alike.  He understood their hatred, their confusion and their doubt because he had lived it.

Just as the scales fell off of Paul’s blinded eyes after his glorious conversion, we read throughout Acts how he was so very capable in opening the blind eyes of others to see their need for salvation. “Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.” (22)

Paul remembered enough of his painful past to make this statement to Timothy, “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.”(I Timothy 1:15-16) God used Paul’s hateful past to serve a higher purpose of which we, too, are the recipients today through his written words.

Remembering our difficult experiences in the past makes us more sensitive to others who are walking through similar trials.  We understand their fears, their broken hearts and sometimes even their anger at God and everyone.  Like Paul in his day, we are able to help them and convince them to believe in God.  “[God] comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)

We can fulfill His greater purpose to touch others who walk where we have walked only through opening our hearts and eyes to see their need of Him.  Our understanding of this walk and our victory through Christ challenge us to share with them that “they, too, can believe in Him and receive eternal life.”

Moving Forward: My prayer today is that God will open my eyes to see those whose pain I, too, have felt so that I may lead them to Him. 

Tomorrow @ James 4-5

Next Page »