Friday, April 29, 2016

Turning shipwrecks into Opportunities

Read Acts 28.

What may seem at first to be a great loss to us can become great opportunities in ministering to others.

No doubt Paul would have never met Publius nor shared the good news of Jesus on Malta, if it were not for the shipwreck.  He taught the word of God for three months before sailing on another ship from Egypt.

Being a prisoner did not seem to be a burden for Paul at all.  He so served those around him that he was allowed much freedom to live and to teach.

In Rome, he had a soldier assigned to him, but Paul lived in a house "at his own expense."  Upon arriving he discovered two things: 1)The gospel had already reached as far as Rome, and 2)He was able to strengthen the faith of the believers who were there. Then, as was his custom, he invited Jewish leaders to his home Bible study.  For two years, the Apostle taught about Jesus from the Old Testament.  Jesus was indeed the fulfillment of the "hope of Israel" (v.20), the Messiah.  It was this same hope that energized the godly Jews such as Simeon in his work as a priest in the Temple, "waiting for the consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25), when Mary and Joseph walked in with baby Jesus.

Some of the Jews were receptive to the message and placed their personal faith in Jesus.  Others did not.  At that, Paul decisively turned his ministry focus to the Gentiles.  From the beginning, preaching Christ to the Gentiles was his calling.  "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:16)

The book of Acts stops with chapter 28.  But the story of the church continues to unfold to this day.  It will continue "until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:25-26).  Paul explained to the Romans that a partial spiritual blindness had come upon the Jews, as the prophets predicted.  One day, the church age will conclude and the Jews will welcome Jesus as the Messiah.  He will, then, fulfill all the earthly kingdom prophecies.

In the meantime, we who are part of this on-going story of the church must look for those great opportunities that God gives to each of us.  "But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15).

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Hope in the middle of Desperation

Read Acts 27.

Paul was in the center of God's will for his life.  Several times the Lord confirmed that his mission included going to Rome.  However, that did not preclude problems along the way.  Every journey of Paul's became life-threatening at some point.  Yet, each time God delivered him and as well as those who traveled with him.

The ship carried wheat (v.38), most likely from Egypt bound for Rome.  Governor Festus turned over the custody of Paul, as a prisoner, to a Roman centurion named Julius.  A centurion had charge of one hundred men.  With the soldiers, an uncertain number of prisoners, the crew, and Paul's traveling companions of Luke and Aristarchus, the total souls on board were 276 (v.37).

Sailing the Mediterranean Sea in the mid to late fall required caution at best.  No one dared sail in the winter months.  Here, the weather went from bad to worse with a storm.  Things are pretty desperate when the crew must strap the ship with ropes to keep the timbers together (v.17).  Everyone expected that this was the end.  They were surely going to die.

But, this chapter is full of twists.  Paul is in the will of God and yet about to be shipwrecked and possibly die.  He is a prisoner, yet he became the leader.  In the midst of certain death, Paul announced hope.  How was this possible?

The answer is that God had prepared Paul for this very moment.
1. He had experience with such problems.
He had been here before.  In 2 Corinthians 11:25, Paul stated that he had endured three shipwrecks in his ministry.  This prepared him to have some credible ideas as to how to survive and help others in the process.

2. He had the word of God.
In this instance, an angel of God, gave Paul direct revelation concerning his survival and future.  He was assured of his destination.  Then, he stood firm in his faith as he faced these horrifying circumstances.

3. He had hope in what God said.
With great confidence, he announced "...I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told" (v.25).  His message of hope was not spin.  It was, in fact, the truth.  As a result, "...all were brought safely to land" (v.44).

Those same principles can guide us through the most threatening circumstances.  God uses our past experiences with adversity and the faithfulness of God to face future problems and to help others.  God has graciously allowed us to have His word in writing to know and put into practice.  It is the anchor of our faith.  Our hope is in knowing, no matter what happens to us, our true destination is secure in Christ.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Persuasion and Pride

Read Acts 26.

As Jesus foretold in Acts 9:15, Paul stood before kings.  This king was Herod Agrippa II, the great-grandson of Herod the Great.  He ruled the northern territory of Israel from A.D. 50-70.  His connections with Caesar and the fact that he was a practicing Jew led to his appointment over the Temple treasury and the selection of the high priest.  He would have known the parties involved and understood the issues very well.  Yet, Agrippa's personal life was notoriously sinful.

The details above provide insight into the manner of Paul's defense and the personal statements he made directed at Agrippa.
v.3-" are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews."
v.22-"...saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass..."
v.26-"For the king knows about these things..."
v.27-"King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?  I know that you believe."

Paul presented Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, including the resurrection.  If we believe God is all-powerful, then why should believing that He can raise the dead be a problem (v.8)?  Isaiah 53, for example, paints a complete picture of the suffering and death of the Messiah for all individual sin.  With such a backdrop of understanding, Paul quoted Jesus regarding his calling.  Subtly, or perhaps not so subtle, Paul told Agrippa how to be saved.

" open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." (v.18)

Repenting and asking forgiveness would mean admitting and confessing sin against God.  With Bernice sitting there (who was a major part of his well-known sinful behavior) and in front of Governor Festus, the king was not about to humble himself and admit anything.  Yet, he knew the truth about both God and himself.  In an effort to relieve the spiritual pressure of the moment, Agrippa responded, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?"  He was almost persuaded but remained eternally lost.

Pride of the human heart may be the most personally damning element of all.  It causes one to think they know better than God; that they can hear the truth and hold on to their sin; that what the Scriptures clearly teach about heaven and hell is somehow optional for them.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

When life doesn't make Sense

Acts 25.

Paul was arrested in Jerusalem as he was about to be killed by an angry mob.  Next, he stood before the Sanhedrin being falsely accused.  Again, the Roman soldiers had to step in and rescue him from being "torn to pieces" by the religious leaders.  Then, in a move to protect his life from an assassination, the Roman soldiers escorted Paul to Caesarea.  There, Governor Felix listened to the case, determined it had no merit, but kept Paul in prison for two more years.

After two years, a new governor was appointed.  Porcius Festus held court to hear the case for himself on his first full day in office at Caesarea.  He concluded that there was no reasonable case to decide.  In fact, he could not even figure out what to write concerning the charges against Paul (v.27).

What was going on here?  This makes no sense.  Why would any rational authority keep a prisoner for years without cause?  Why wasn't his case thrown out for lack of evidence?

Politically, the Roman appointees wanted to maintain peace in their territories at any price.  Ruling over Israel meant dealing successfully with the Jews.  With the past riots and threats, keeping Paul locked away seemed the easy decision.

Spiritually, the war was raging.  Paul, along with others, expanded the reach of the gospel from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, into Samaria, and had gone as far as Greece.  Satan launched every attack he could to try to stop the life-changing message of Jesus from going any further.  Paul later wrote to the Corinthians concerning the work of the devil, "...we are not ignorant of his designs." (2 Corinthians 2:11)

Personally, Paul appeared to be out of commission, imprisoned for years without just cause.

Why?  Why did not God intervene and do something?  The answer: He was at work the entire time, even controlling the movements of the Roman Empire.  What seemed judiciously ridiculous and could not have made any sense to Paul and his friends fit perfectly into God's plan for Paul's life.  Upon his conversion to Christ, the Lord declared that Paul would "carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." (Acts 9:15-16)  The plan continued to unfold.  The story was not over yet.  Paul was going to Rome for an audience with Caesar, the infamous Nero.

What can we learn from this example that may serve to encourage us in times of adversity, loss, and lack?  When life doesn't make sense...

1. Trust God.
He knows what He is doing when we cannot see the plan.  He is in control when we think things have gotten out of control.  He is worthy of our worship and loves us eternally, even when we do not feel His love.  Our feelings do not change the facts.

2. Wait on God.
Much of our worry comes from our impatience.  We want what concerns us to be fixed immediately.  The Lord does not work on our time schedule.  Psalm 27:14-"Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!"  The results will be worth the wait.

3. Expect God to work on your behalf.
"And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." (Hebrews 11:6)

4. Be ready.
Most of life is beyond our control.  Instead of focusing on what we cannot fix, we need to take charge of what has been given to us.  We must make sure we are doing all that is within our responsibility.   That way, when the God's plan is revealed, we are the person God can use at that moment, ready to seize the opportunity and fulfill our life purpose.  "Finally, be strong in the LORD and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil." (Ephesians 6:10-11)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Rejecting Jesus is character Revealing

Read Acts 24.

Standing before the governor in this hearing proved very revealing.  The character of each party involved was exposed.

The high priest engaged Tertullus to serve as prosecutor.  After a disingenuous introduction, three main accusations were presented.  Each was false.
1. Paul was a plague, a disease, or sickness.  Tertullus blamed Paul personally and did not refer to the message.  In fact, Paul was helping people everywhere he went.  It was not Paul, but the message of Jesus that was spreading as lives were being changed.

2. Paul stirred up riots throughout the world.  In fact, it was the unbelievers who instigated every one of the riots because they wanted to stop the message.

3. Paul was a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.  Interesting that Tertullus could not bring himself to mention the name of Jesus.  He blamed a group rather than belief in the risen Lord.

Paul's response to the accusations was that they had no proof to present.  In fact, he embraced the same Scriptures they said they believed.  Then, Paul made one of the greatest character statements in the Bible: "So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man." (v.16)

We discover that the governor had "a rather accurate knowledge of the Way."  Occasionally, Felix would meet with Paul to hear more and to discuss spiritual things.  Notice the main topics Paul presented.
1. Righteousness.  What it means to be right with God and to do right according to God's word.
2. Self-control.  To commit oneself to Jesus and to live right means there are certain disciplines that must accompany that decision.  When we turn to God, we turn our backs on sin.
3. Coming judgment.  There is a day of accountability to God for our lives, what we did and what we did not do.

When Felix heard that it scared him.  He physically trembled.  This was the Holy Spirit of God getting his attention.  What he did next revealed his true character.  He put off making a decision for Christ, as if a delay would change anything.  For over two years he kept Paul in prison, occasionally meeting to continue the discussion.  It was a pretense.  His character was corrupted by the hope that Paul's friends would pay money for his release.

We need to be aware of these same behaviors today.  There are those who so oppose the wonderful, liberating message of Jesus that they falsely accuse His followers of all sorts of nonsense.  True believers simply love God and love people.  The message includes right behavior, a call to stop sinning against God, and coming judgment.  To ignore any of those three is to present a false representation of the word of God.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Living a life of Immortality

Read Acts 23.

It was George Whitefield, the great preacher from England of the 1770's and founder of the University of Pennsylvania, who said, "We are immortal until our work on earth is done."

Behind that quote are several crucial and personal understandings.
1. Such a person understands God's purpose for their lives.
2. Such a person endeavors to live each day according to God's will for them.
3. Such a person will be taken by God when their individual mission is fulfilled.

That realization for the committed follower of Christ provides an incomparable confidence.  It bolsters our faith in that no matter what may happen, this life is temporary at best.  Every day, then, counts.  Though, on  a human level, we certainly feel the loss of someone who dies or when things do not go according to our plans, we likewise have the certainty that God knows what He is doing.  It is His plans that matter, not ours.  That is what it means to call Him Lord.

Here in this chapter, the Roman tribune did a noble thing to get to the bottom of the facts.  However, the people who were in charge of the trial were the very ones who had already determined to kill Paul.  Two times in two chapters this same Roman tribune had to physically rescue Paul from being beaten to death.  The official sanction of this oath taken by forty men to go without food until they murder the Apostle Paul reveals the total lack of any godliness among Israel's religious leaders.

There are no bullies and no more dangerous individuals like those who oppose the veracity of the Scriptures and the believers in Jesus.  The world will force acceptance of any other belief system and any behavior, even atheism.  But one who commits their lives to Christ and His word are subject to persecution and worse.

But God intervened again for Paul.  The plot became known.  The Satanically energized enemy had forty men.  God used the Roman government to provide four hundred and seventy trained fighting soldiers to protect Paul.  God even provided a horse for him.  They left at 9 PM on a quick 35-mile overnight march.  This is the third recorded time in Acts where Paul had to escape a city at night.

Persecuted?  Yes.  Beaten and suffering?  Yes.  But he remained immortal until he would fulfill his assigned mission.  Jesus had already confirmed His will for Paul.  "Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome." (23:11).  These words were meant to comfort him in midst of every challenge.

To the Romans, Paul wrote: " all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:37-39)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Rumors and Racism

Read Acts 22.

This uproar in Jerusalem had to do with a false rumor.  Someone assumed that Gentiles were among the group with Paul as he entered the inner Temple area.

Two points immediately call for our attention.  First, how dangerous rumors, gossip, and slander are.  With a single statement, an uninformed crowd was ready to commit murder.  Initially at least, those who reacted were fellow worshipers at the Temple!  How many good people and their reputations have been hurt or destroyed by an innuendo or outright lie.  "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless."  (James 1:26).

To further highlight the lack of true godliness extant among the religious leaders of that day is the nature of the accusation.  It was nothing less that hate-filled racism.  So filled with hubris and self-righteousness, they ignored the truth of God's word, the truth of their own laws, and the real truth of the situation.

1. Paul was not guilty of their accusation.  In fact, he went to great lengths to conform to expectations (21:22-26).   No matter about the facts, their minds were made up.

2. The Law allowed for those of other nations, including Gentiles, to worship at the Temple.  Indeed, one entire area was called "the court of the Gentiles."  What flared the rumor was they supposed that Gentiles with Paul went further into the Temple than allowed.  The Gospels provide examples of some Romans who were godly people.  There remained, however, such distrust that the Jews became more concerned with protecting their false purity than being excited about others turning to God.  At the root, however, was that the Temple authorities counted Paul as a traitor and wanted to assassinate him.

3. From the time of Abraham and through the writings of the prophets, the LORD had foretold of Gentiles being included in the family of faith.  "...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3b).  The Jews, by their true worship of God, were to be a light for the Gentiles to come to faith.  In rebuking the priests, Malachi wrote, "For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering.  For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 1:11).  Restoring the spiritual life of the Jews and including the Gentiles in the faith is why the Messiah came.  " bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6b).  Much of the mention of Gentiles in the prophetic writings has to do with the time of the restored kingdom to Israel during the Millennial reign of Christ.  But all along there is an inclusion of all people to repent and come to faith in the LORD.

One of the great passages from the book of Revelation is found in 7:9-10.  "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!'"

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

That's not the way I would have done It

Read Acts 21.

Can a person acting in the will of God be misunderstood?
Can a person dismiss good counsel by godly people and still be in the will of God?
Can a person living in the center of God's will suffer?

The Apostle Paul declared in Acts 20:22 that he was "constrained by the Spirit" to go to Jerusalem.  He wanted to be there in time for the annual Pentecost celebration.  He hand carried a collection for the poor and needed to deliver it to the church at Jerusalem (24:17).

However, along the way, he was warned of the danger in going to Jerusalem.  Paul had once been a trusted leader of the Sanhedrin to chase down, arrest, and stop the followers of Jesus.  When Paul became a believer, the Temple leadership sanctioned his assassination.  It has troubled some that the disciples in Tyre, "in the Spirit", told him not to go.  And, then, at Caesarea, Agabus dramatically warned him with "Thus says the Holy Spirit".  Some have misinterpreted this to be stubbornness on Paul's part in not listening to wisdom.  Rather, these statements are concerns of friends who did not want to see Paul suffer or worse, be killed.  Their statements are accurate from the Holy Spirit of what would take place but they do not contradict the will of God for Paul to go.

We should listen to those who have our best interests at heart.  We should take into consideration godly counsel.  We must be aware of our own weaknesses, ego, pride, selfish goals, and stubbornness.  Such things are sinful and will never achieve the will of God for our lives.  Seeking God's face, obeying His word and His will are imperatives.  And, what may be the plan of God for one, may not be what God wants from another.  Paul later wrote, "So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God." (Romans 14:12)

Indeed, Paul stated that He was doing what the Holy Spirit led him to do regardless of the consequences.  "For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus" (v.13).  At Jerusalem, in an attempt not to be misunderstood, he was falsely accused, beaten, and arrested just before the mob would have killed him.  He was never a free man after this incident.  But, even then he could honestly and publicly say, "...I have lived before God in all good conscience up to this day" (23:1).

Every day and every decision provides a self-check to be sure we are right where God wants us to be, doing what He wants us to do.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

6 marks of godly Leadership

Read Acts 20.

Paul was a man on mission.  His focus majored on fulfilling God's purpose for his life.  The personal cost was of no consideration to him.  "But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God." (v.24)

One of hallmarks of Paul's ministry was not only marked by this dogged determination as to what he did but how he served.  In preparing the Ephesian leaders for his departure, he recounted for them some important leadership keys from his own example.  No less than six of these appear in verses 17-24.

1. Character.
Here the great Apostle Paul did not "lord it over" others with his authority.  Though he certainly could have been, he was not bossy.  He served with "all humility", even providing for himself financially as need be (18:3).

2. Compassion.
He desired that others would come to know Christ and to be saved from an eternity of punishment.  This was not just sound doctrine for him.  He genuinely cared for people to the point of weeping over their spiritual needs.

3. Conflict.
Everywhere he went there was opposition, rejection, and worse.  First of all, sharing the Gospel is spiritual war.  The devil will do whatever he can to discourage, stop, and get rid of the messenger.  Time and again, there were crowds demonically fueled with hatred and murder for no reason other than Paul had helped people and preached a message of forgiveness.  Through it all, he remained unwavering in his personal faith and world mission.

4. Content.
Paul never changed his message no matter what.  He only looked for ways to deliver it.  He taught in synagogues, spoke in public forums such as Mars Hill, and in private homes.  Regardless of the context, he always spoke of "repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ."

5. Community.
In every place, Paul left behind a committed group of baptized believers; a local church.  These folks came from all walks of life.  The Gospel breaks down each culture's barriers to bring together as one the rich and poor, the Jew and the Greek, the male and the female, the young and the old.

6. Constrained.
He was bound by the Holy Spirit to keep on serving Jesus.  He could do nothing else.  God called him in Acts 9.  His marching orders in 9:15 were clear-" carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel."  Knowing that there is great reward for those who faithfully serve the Lord, Paul wrote, " it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death."

That is godly leadership!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Selfish motives that oppose Christ

Read Acts 19.

Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."

Followers of Jesus who faithfully share that message of "the way" with others will experience the joy of seeing other lives changed for eternity.  It is also true that not everyone will appreciate the narrow scope of what Jesus said.  Each one who rejects committing themselves to Christ does so with their own self-protective motives to their peril.

After some eighteen months in Corinth, Paul journeyed to Ephesus.  There, for the next two years, he taught the word of God and presented Jesus as the Messiah.  This chapter sites three incidents of rejection and reveals the core motives of each.

1. Some resist change. (vv.1-10)
Acts records a number of transitional events as the Gospel entered new territories.  These twelve men were Old Testament believers and had even experienced the baptism of John.  John's message of repentance from sin was in preparation for the revealing of the Messiah and the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 1:33).  But without the advantage of modern communications, they knew nothing else.  Paul taught them what they did not know and they responded positively.

For the next three months, Paul endeavored to convince the rest of the synagogue that Jesus was the Christ.  However, the unbelievers not only rejected the message but began saying evil things about it.  At the root was their own stubbornness.  They dug in their heels like an immovable mule.  In doing so, they sealed their fate of never being forgiven and suffering for eternity.

However, "all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks" (v.10).

2. Some try to copy. (vv.11-20)
Christianity, with its message of forgiveness, life principles, and spiritual disciplines, become attractive to some who have no intentions of committing their lives to Jesus.  They go through the motions, living in pretense.  Many are merely drawn to a group of believers because of the music, the architecture, the traditions, etc.

The sons of this so-called Jewish high priest were enamored with the power of the Holy Spirit as  displayed in this unique season of Paul's ministry.  Seeing how the people responded, they wanted in on it.  In truth, they were phonies to begin with and now sought to increase their business by trying to copy Paul.  These seven men entered into a spiritual war unarmed.  They barely escaped with their lives.  The power was not in holding a meeting.  It was not in repeating certain words.  Without Jesus, people are on the losing side of the war.  With Jesus, believers have been issued "the whole armor of God" (Ephesians 610-18) and can stand firm in the battle that constantly rages.

"So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily." (v.20)

3. Some fear the cost. (vv.21-41)
When some in Ephesus turned to Jesus, they left the false worship of idols.  This struck fear in the heart of Demetrius.  He envisioned that he would lose future business.  He rallied the local business community against this "Way".  In turn, the city fell into a turmoil and near riot against Christians.

This tactic of Satan has not changed in over 2000 years.  Churches are almost never given any credit for the innumerable good they provide to their city in free services and ministries to people of all ages.  No government agency can match the effectiveness or the efficiency of a healthy local church that is on mission.  Yet, any Biblical truth of morality or decency is met with spiritual opposition.  That is to be expected.  The rejectors are Satanically motivated, loud, and speak ill of what they do not know.  And, verse 32 also remains true.  "Now  some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together."

" almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods." (v.26b)

No one worships Artemis any longer.  The myth died.  Jesus is alive!  Against all human and demonic opposition, the good news of the Way prevails and continues to spread throughout the world today.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Putting persecution into Perspective

Read Acts 18.

ISIS terrorists boast and broadcast the beheading of Christians.  Governments eagerly protect the rights of any citizen, unless they are Christians.  Any other belief is culturally acceptable.  But one who practices a Biblical faith is often referred to as hate-filled and phobic.  Meanwhile, true believers in Jesus, though not perfect, love God and love people (Mark 12:29-31).

The world-wide persecution of believers in Jesus is not new.

Such challenges are recorded seemingly in most of the chapters in the book of Acts.  Peter and John were arrested and even beaten.  Their crimes were healing a lame man and preaching that Jesus is the only way to be saved from sin.  Deacon Stephen is the first recorded martyr of the church.  His crime was preaching Jesus.  Many believers fled Judea due to the persecution, fearing for their lives.  Saul pursued them in order to arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem.  Then, he became the object of assassination attempts.

The Apostle James was beheaded.  Paul and Barnabas were met with opposition wherever they went.  Paul was stoned by the Jews in Lystra and left for dead.  Paul and Silas were arrested in Philippi and beaten.  In Thessalonica, a mob ran them out of town.  Jason and other believers were detained and let go only after they paid money.

Claudius, the Roman Emperor from 41-54 A.D., "commanded all Jews to leave Rome".  This godly and spiritually mature Jewish couple found their way to Corinth. Then, joining Paul in ministry with others, they again experienced persecution.  This time it was at the hands of fellow Jews.  By verse 12, it became a "united attack" as the group of believers were brought before Gallio, the proconsul.  Their crime was that they believed Jesus to be the Messiah.  Despite the fact that the case was dismissed as malicious prosecution, the revilers publicly beat Sosthenes.  The government stood by and did nothing.

Christian pilgrims left various parts of Europe and sailed to the new world due to religious persecution.  The organizing of several states in the colonies were for the express purpose of protecting Christian beliefs.  (For examples, see the history of the founding of Virginia and Rhode Island.)  Today, the United States, once the world leader of freedom and individual rights, is on the verge of attempting to force Biblical Christians to not only accept sinful behaviors but to publicly participate and approve them.

Are we disappointed?  Often.  Yet, wherever the good news of Jesus is presented lives are eternally changed.  There is no reason for the ones who have committed themselves to Christ to be discouraged.  Our hope and peace was never in this world.  The Scriptures have well-prepared us, including the final chapters of earth's story.  "I have said these things to you, that in me (Jesus) you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Religion without Christ

Read Acts 17.

Athens may have been the debate capital of the world at that time.  The city was full of religious beliefs.  Each, of course, was man-made and presented as one more philosophy.  Idols were crafted to represent each of them.  They worshipped gods, but they did not know God.  When Paul began teaching about Jesus, it sounded so strange and different that they gave him an audience.  The content of Paul's message provides the core elements of true Christianity; the essence of the Bible's teaching from Genesis to Revelation.  What did the Apostle say to these religious philosophers of his day?

1. The true God is the Creator of all things. (v.24a)
Creation is not merely an issue concerning the opening chapters of Genesis.  Creator is who God is.  He did this, according to the Scriptures, out of nothing by His word of command.  Any other view then is a belief in a man-made, unproven, philosophical theory and is incompatible with Christ.  Indeed, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul identifies Jesus as the Creator (Colossians 1:16).  Any other belief then is not Christianity.

2. The true God is spirit. (vv.24b, 29)
Jesus said, "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24)  Paul mentioned this fact in contrast to the multiplicity of temples and idols that had been erected for all the false gods and objects of their prayers.  The God of the Bible does not live in buildings and objects.  Worshiping and praying to anyone or anything else is not Christianity.

3. The true God is self-sufficient. (v.25a)
He does not need humans to provide anything for Him.  Until we deal with our sin problem, there is no amount of good works that we can do to earn His favor.  Isaiah 64:6, "...all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away."  So, all the sacrifices and offerings made to appease a false god is not Christianity.

4. The true God is the giver of life. (v.25b)
As Creator, either God is the First Cause of life and breath of all things or He is not.  It is clear that the statements in the Bible stand in contradiction to man-made theories regarding a "big bang" or "primeval ooze."  Explosions do not create, they destroy.  Attributing life and breath to any other original source is not Christianity.

5. The true God is sovereign. (v.26)
He is in control and Lord of all.  He set the species to reproduce after their kind.  There may be, and are, variations but still within their kind.  He established the places for life and living.  The Greeks were not in charge of their own destiny.   Man-made philosophies of evolution and humanism are in opposition to Christianity.

6. The true God is judge of all things. (v.31a)
There is an appointed time when every human who has ever lived will stand in judgment before this Almighty God.  Those who have given their lives to Jesus will have been previously reward for their service to Christ and will not face this judgment.  Jesus said, "The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son." (John 5:22).  Revelation 20:11-15 describes the horror of those who trusted in false beliefs being cast into a place of eternal punishment.  Omitting this ultimate consequence of sin is not Christianity.

What is the point of the message?  "That they should seek God..." (v.27) and " he commands all people everywhere to repent" (v.30).

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Recognizing Divine Encounters

Read Acts 16.

Unless one is in solitude, we meet and interact with other people multiple times a day.  Every person has value to God.  Every person is on this earth for a God-ordained reason.  Every person will spend eternity somewhere.  Every person is in need of the Savior.  Every person is carrying a burden.  Every person is in need of encouragement to fulfill their God-given purpose.

This chapter begins the account of the second missionary journey.  Barnabas took his relative John Mark to revisit Cyprus.  Paul teamed with Silas to revisit the churches of Galatia and to move into new territory.  First, he went right back to the very place that stoned him and left him for dead.  Those new believers needed to hear the Council's decisions (Acts 15) and they could use more of his teaching and encouragement.  But along the way, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke recorded a few of those Divine encounters that forever changed lives.  These four examples provide some reminders for us all.

1. What we see in people. (vv.1-5)
Obviously, Timothy was a fine young believer and eager to serve.  Paul saw ministry and leadership potential in him and desired to take Timothy on the rest of the trip.  This mentoring relationship allowed Paul to pour his life into a future pastor.  Paul treated him as a son (2 Timothy 2:1) and, later, Paul wrote two pastoral letters to Timothy.  There is no mention of his Greek father.  Only his Jewish mother is mentioned in verse 1.  But, both his mother and grandmother are named in 2 Timothy 1:5 as godly women who passed on their faith to him.

2. Where we find people. (vv.6-15)
Paul traveled west through Asia Minor, being led by the Spirit, until he could go no further.  The vision of a man calling for help from Macedonia resulted in the Gospel being taken into Europe.  At Philippi, unexpectedly, the man turned out to be a godly woman named Lydia.  Paul immediately recognized this as a Divine encounter.  She, along with the other praying women, became the nucleus of the church there.  Later, Paul would write to the Philippians to further encourage their faith and Christian behaviors.

3. What hurting people need. (vv.16-25)
She was demon-possessed and her owners used her as a so-called fortune-teller.  For days, as Paul and Silas endeavored to present the good news of Jesus, the demon kept up a loud harassment.  This was raw spiritual war.  Paul did not respond to her at first, but he reached a point where he had had enough.  When he exorcised the demon, the harassing stopped.  There is no mention of anyone being glad at the deliverance of this your girl.  Her owners, having lost their income from her, caused Paul and Silas to be arrested and imprisoned.  He did the right thing in this Divine encounter and suffered for it.

4. How we unexpectedly treat people. (vv.26-40)
This unnamed jailer was simply doing his job.  Paul and Silas did not bemoan the ill treatment but prayed and sang.  This was an unusual response from inmates.  Previously in Acts, an angel miraculously led Peter out of jail and the jailers paid for it with their lives.  Here, the cell doors were all opened and no one left.  Realizing that his life had been spared, God got this man's full attention.  His question remains classic: "What must I do to be saved?"  The simple answer remains the same as well: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved."  He and his entire family came to faith in Christ.  Ironically, when Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians it was from another prison cell.

A person on mission is always praying and looking for opportunities that fulfill the purpose of the mission.  Divine encounters are everywhere, all the time.