Acts


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 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 a 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 obviously 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 leadership 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 presents 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 our 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 response 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)  To 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!”

There are individuals in this century, too, 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 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 to open 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 greater 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

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 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 to 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 would do well to be cautious in our criticism and skepticism of it, but 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

The presidential 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 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 chose 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 obvious miracle had drawn a crowd, and Peter, preacher that he was, could not resist presenting the message of Jesus Christ.  In a matter of minutes, a couple 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

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