March 30th Acts chapter 18

I want to begin by apologizing for yesterday’s typo.  I inadvertently labeled chapter seventeen’s study as chapter sixteen.  To be honest, it made my day that people noticed, that means some are studying.

In today’s chapter we see that Paul has ended up in Corinth.  As we read through these verses we often imagine that Paul is on the go continuously.  We see here that he stayed there for one and a half years.  This seems like just a foot note to us today, but it is much more.  Corinth was known through out the region as a basic cesspool for debauchery.  Sexual immorality was a huge problem in this city.  God had ordained Paul to not only preach the Gospel, but also to disciple the new believers.  Paul could have chosen easier locations in which to preach, or perhaps he could have simply presented the Gospel and left; but he knew that God had different plans for the city of Corinth.  This is why we see additional protection from God toward Paul.  Once again, in this chapter, we see a man who picked a fight with the wrong guy!  As I wrote to you earlier:  When a person is on a mission that is not his or her own, a mission that is ordained by God, he or she is not one to be trifled with.  This Jewish leader named  Sosthenes was humiliated and beaten by gentiles in front of the very magistrate that was set up to hold order in the region.  Gallio the proconsul of Achaia ignored the beating of Sosthenes and acted as if nothing had happened.

Today there are many who claim to be evangelists who travel from place to place in order to preach the Gospel.  (Before I go any farther I want to begin with a clause: the following statements do not apply to all in this group.)  These men preach and then simply move on without any discipleship.  The model of evangelism given by Jesus was friendship evangelism.  Jesus invested in the lives of people, grew relationships and showed them the way to salvation.  These people then followed Him to learn from Him. We have things turned over backward today in a couple of different ways.  The first way is the mindset that the pastor is the evangelist.  In this view of evangelism, the plan is to get people to come to church.  We feel that if we get them there, that pastor guy can tell them about Jesus.  The model that we are looking at in the early church is not laid out that way.  The apostles (the first pastors) were teaching doctrine to the people so that they could lead their friends to Christ.  At the point that these friends repented, they intern joined the church in prayer, breaking of bread and holding to the apostles doctrine.  In this different, modern model we see churches that try so hard to lure the world into the church that they try to appease the world with the message and the worship among other things.  Sin is tolerated, because after all we are trying to reach a lost world.  This model causes the main line of teaching and preaching to be a salvation message.  When this happens, a church will be comprised of people who have not been given any depth to their faith.  This group will essentially be a group of new born babies for life.  This exacerbates the problem and causes people to believe that they are not able to lead others to Christ due to the lack of discipleship and personal time in the Word.  Therefore the pastor is the towns paid evangelist.  The second way we often turn things around backward is through, what began this topic, the evangelist.  Jesus did not call us to make converts; He instead called us to make disciples.  One cannot make disciples as Jesus commanded us to do in the great commission without relationships.  Jesus also added to His Words “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”   A man who is only willing to give a speech and leave is not being obedient to the command of Christ.  I have also noticed, through personal experience, that many self proclaimed evangelists are those who have failed at the pastorate (again, NOT ALL!).  These are the ones that may say “I love the ministry if it weren’t  for the people.”  Friends this is no ministry at all.  Some, who have no patience or people skills, decide to go on the road.  How much easier is it to feel as though you are the mouthpiece of God without getting to know the hurts, obstacles and problems of your people.  How much easier is it to obey the words of Jesus when He said “A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another as I have loved you.”   People are much easier to love when you don’t get to know them!  But how much more beneficial is it when we do as Jesus did with His disciples; these guys were not very “lovable.”  James and John were known as “The son’s of thunder” due to their brashness and fighting.  All twelve of them, as Jesus is trying to explain that He was to be crucified, were arguing as to who would be the greatest in the kingdom.  James and John even got their mommy involved in an argument over who would sit at Jesus’ left and right in the kingdom to come!  Peter was a hot head that just blurted out what ever came into his mind without any filter.  After the resurrection on the beach as Jesus is instructing Peter; all Pete could think about was: “What about John?”  Jesus had to abruptly tell Peter “What is it to you if he tarries until I return.”  Jesus worked on these relationships, he nurtured them and He loved these men regardless of their short comings.  Just as he loved you enough that the Bible says in Romans 5:8 “But God commended His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  When we love and direct those around us into disciples, we do as Paul did and we do as Jesus did to make disciples.

May God continue to bless you in the studying of His Word.

 

Pastor Steve

March 29th Acts chapter 17

Good morning!  We see in today’s reading that a steady theme continues as the Gospel is being presented.  This theme is jealousy among, especially, the religious.  It happened during the life of Christ and now, on Paul’s journey, many people react with the exact same responses.  Jealousy is a cancer that destroys from the inside out.  Jealousy causes one to be unreasonable and unable to face the truth.  It is no surprise that Satan uses jealousy as a major tool in his arsenal; after all that is the very reason that he fell from heaven taking one-third of the angels with him.  The Bible shows us this in Isaiah chapter fourteen.  Satan had said in his heat that “I will be like the most high.”  Selfish ambition so often, if not always, is the reason for disbelief and disobedience.  Remember in the garden when the sinless Eve was duped by Lucifer?  She finally gave in to the temptation when Lucifer led her to believe that she would “be like God, knowing good from evil.”   The men in this chapter, that tried to stop the message that Paul was preaching, were unwilling to have the attention taken from off of them.  Many believed after Paul explained in the synagog (which is a gathering place much like our church buildings today for the Jews because they could not go to the temple any longer) the scriptures to them.  Paul had made a path from the old testament writings, prophesies and symbols that caused many to believe.  Even when faced with the truth of God’s Word, these jealous religious men would not repent.

Paul then preaches his famous message at Mars hill.  This is where Paul tells them that they are indeed very religious; but their religion is in vain because they were focusing their worship in the wrong direction.  Notice in these chapters that there were many who “feared God” and there were many who were “religious.”  But we should take serious note, that these religious, God fearing people were still hopelessly lost without the Gospel of Christ.  Today, things are not much different.  We are surrounded by religion and religious people.  There are many who fear God, in fact they are petrified of Him because they are still hopelessly relying on their own works to save them.  There are still those who will not allow the spot light to fall from there face and give glory to God.  This book is as relevant today as in the day it was written!  I hope that when we are studying together we will realize this.  This should also remind us that we have the same mission and the same mandate and we should have the same mindset to take the Gospel to these people.  Many will reject it, but just as in the day of Paul’s missionary journey, many will accept it.  The prophet Isaiah  states that God’s Word will not return unto Him void.  Keep spreading the Word of the True Gospel.  Your life will be blessed.

 

Pastor Steve

March 29th Acts chapter 16

Good morning!  I hope that you are enjoying the book of Acts, along with first and second Samuel, this book is most interesting because it is written in a type of ongoing story mode.  I would love to see a movie production of these three books!

Once again we will focus on a few different things in today’s readings.  The first thing that we learn from the text is that sometimes our best intended plans are not God’s plans.  I have, many times, come up with what I believe to be the perfect plan.  I sit back and view what the goal is, what the means are and the importance of what it is that I have come up with.  If you didn’t already notice the word “I” was mentioned four times in the last few lines; which is where the problem lies.  But when making plans to share the Gospel, help those in need or disciple people, what could possibly be wrong with them one may ask.  Too often they are not His plans, no matter how good they may seem.  Paul and Timothy wanted to bring the Gospel to Asia and they were stopped by the Holy Spirit.  This seems to make no sense to the reader that is excited about people coming to Christ.  There was something in that plan that these men could not, with earthly perspective, see.  I believe the difference in these two men and many of us is that they had a clear ear for the voice of God.  They were in so in tune with the master from their daily relationship that they didn’t hesitate to change their plans.  I believe that I, may have rationalized, in that position, that the evil one was whispering in my ear, or perhaps I was having doubts due to fear.  But as Jesus said in the Gospel of John “My sheep know my voice.”   The closer and more often we are alone with Him the more clear His voice becomes.  I do not know why they were not to go to Asia, or if perhaps there was nothing wrong with heading to Asia, but God had began drawing someone else to hear the message.  I have to wonder what worse, short of death,  could have happened to them in Asia.  They went were God told them and they were beaten and imprisoned.  But God had a plan.  We may work as hard as we like in doing our “good plans”  but without fruit.   Jesus said in John 15:5 “I am the vine and you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, the same shall bring forth much fruit, for without Me you can do nothing.”  Friends, being alone with God and in prayer with Him daily is the utmost important thing for the true believer in Christ.  These men proved this by the fruit that came about as they changed their direction to Macedonia.  Proverbs 3:5-6 states “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding.  in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths”   These verses are very common among believers, but the very next, not so familiar, verse is also very important, it states:  “and be ye not wise in your own eyes…”

This chapter has spoken volumes to me today in my personal life.  In regards to these men’s attitudes after being beaten and imprisoned, I am amazed and yet embarrassed; if I may be absolutely real with you.  When things get hard (and most of us have never been beaten or imprisoned for the Gospel) we so often tend to think, and even say:  “What am I doing wrong Lord?”  If our words are not accepted, if people don’t like us or if we fall into hardship, most of us immediately begin to think that we must have taken the wrong path.  This is not necessarily so; as we see in this chapter.  These boys were right where God had intended them to be.  Because of their trust in the One who sent them they had confidence in the mission regardless of the circumstances.  This confidence allowed them to, instead of complain or whine, rejoice and sing.  The following words out of verse 25 hit home with me this morning: “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them…”  The prisoners didn’t just “hear” them, they instead listened to them.  The wording suggests that they were attentive to them.  The lost around us are “listening” to us in our trials!  What are they hearing from us?  I would love to be able to say that those around me have always heard rejoicing in the bad times; but sadly it is just not so.  But thanks be to God, because this is the very purpose of studying His Word.  We see what needs to be changed and then make it so.  Due to their faith in the face of adversity, even the jailer was saved!  Then his whole family followed suit.

We also see the strong personality of Paul in this chapter.  Paul, a perfect pick from God, being a Jew and also a Roman citizen, made sure that the leaders knew that they had done a very frightful thing.  This city, under Roman rule, had just taken a legitimate Roman citizen and had him beaten.  If Paul had pursued a claim against them, the Roman government would have had a proverbial “field day” with them.  Paul did not seem like a man to be trifled with.

I’m looking forward to studying together again tomorrow.  May God bless His Word in your life!

Pastor Steve

 

 

March 28th Acts chapter 15

As we look in the reading for today we see another stirring up of those who were legalists.  Some of the Pharisees were telling others that they needed to add works to their salvation in order to attain it.  This discussion with the leaders may seem odd to us, but they did not have the completed Word of God yet and they wanted to instruct in the correct way.  The dynamics of adding works to salvation is a very dangerous one.  When adding works to grace; not only does salvation no longer rest in Christ, but no one can tell where the line is to be drawn.  It is mentioned in the text about a burden being added that they and their fathers could not handle.  This argument does not stop in this chapter, but continues on among those people spread through out the region as Paul will later address it in a very forward manner to make his point.

When they decided how to word their letters to the churches, I hope that we all recognize the language being used.  When mentioning staying away from things sacrificed to idols and so on, they stated “It would be good for you to abstain from these things.”  The focus was no longer on salvation; it was instead focused on the appropriate behavior of the believer.   We have liberty in Christ indeed, but we are now set to even a higher standard than the law.  We now have a purpose to be ambassadors for Christ.  Our life and lifestyl represent our risen Savior.  This should be our focus as we judge our actions, not fear of the loss of salvation.

The book of James goes into great detail in the area of grace and works.  That writing sums up much in this discussion when it states (in my summation) Those who are truly saved do good works because of the grace that they have received.  Grace is never received because of the good works that someone does.  Ephesians 2:8-9 states “For by grace you have been saved through faith not of yoursef; it is a gift of God not of works lest any man should boast.”

Although we have liberty, not all things are proper for the believer.

 

Pastor Steve

March 25th Acts chapter 14

In today’s chapter we see some of the highest highs, and the lowest lows.  Paul and Barnabas went from people dressing them in garlands and trying to sacrifice to them as though they were gods to being stoned by the same mob.  This crowd is much like the crowed in Jerusalem that screamed “Hosanna in the highest…Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord” when Jesus was entering the city.  The same crowd that screamed “Crucify Him…His blood be on us and our children” a week later.  For those reading this whom God has chosen as leaders; we need to remember that people are fickle.  If we base our calling or our ministry on popular opinion we will be gods one day and manure the next!  But, there is one; and one alone, who “never changes”(Malachi 3:6).  There is one who’s “love endures forever” (I Chronicles 16:34).  There is one who, as the woman at the well found and cried out “come and see the man who knows everything I have ever done” (John 4:29).  Who knows every aspect of your thought life, ambitions and heart; He, not only knows what they have been for your entire life, but He also knows what they will be in the eternity future. (Ps 139:2).  This one is the one who has ordained you for good works my friend (Jeremiah 1:5).  This is the one that you and I will give an account to in the last day, not a fickle, self serving crowd of people.  This is also the one, who when we stand before Him one day at the judgement seat of Christ,  will allow us to see all who were saved due to our obedience to Him regardless of the circumstances or the popular opinion of the day.  We will at this time see what sort of works we have done in His name (I Cor. 3:10-15).  This is how we have peace in the middle of what seems to be chaos.  As the Word says in Ephesians chapter six we are to have our feed shod with the Gospel of peace.  Our peace comes from a firm foundation in the truth that the God of the universe has called us unto His good works (Eph 2:10).  We have our feet firmly planted on the rock of Jesus Christ as our foundation of truth and not on man.  When our feet are planted anywhere else they are on shifting sand.   We can trust in the Word when it says that nothing can separate us from the love of God: “For I am persuaded, that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us form the love of God which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:35-39).  God did not promise us a rose garden when we gave our life fully to Him; but He did promise fruit in our lives (John 15:5).  I am telling you with all certainty, my friend in the fight, in the last day, that fruit will be all that has ever mattered in this life.  this life is only as long as a vapor; all else will be forgotten.  The phrase that I would like to coin for this chapter is this: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but converts live forever, and ever, and ever.”  A-men or not!

Well, as you can tell, I’ve begin preaching a sermon alone in my office and it must be a good one because no one in the room is asleep!   But I must move on.  The second thing that I would like to focus on today is verse 22.  This sentence says a great deal about the life of the true believer.  The text doesn’t say that evangelists, or pastors, or deacons, or Sunday school teachers or any of the like must by “many tribulations enter the kingdom of heaven.”  He is talking about people who have genuinely given their life to Christ.  If there is no battle, there is no enemy advancement.  If there is no enemy advancement, one is not a threat.  If one is not a threat, they are not a kingdom dweller.  Those who have had the Spirit of God revived in their lives cannot help but to focus on making disciples.  This is what Satan is trying to destroy.  If there is not fruit in the life of someone, even if they have an assigned pew at church, they are not one of His.  Jesus said that we will know them by their fruits (Matt. 7:16).  This gives us a new view of words of the disciples that seem so foreign.  We see often that they rejoice to be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ.  This suffering means that evidently they are making Kingdom headway.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,
 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing”  (James 2:3-4).
Pastor Steve

March 24th Acts chapter 13

In today’s study I would like to clear up some of the statements that would mean much to the Jewish person of the first century, but not so much to us today.  So instead of doing an exegesis on the chapter; I will instead simply write a brief paragraph on each of these statements or situations.

The first thing that would allow us a deeper view of the text is to understand the phrase “shook the dust of their feet against them.”   At first glance the statement doesn’t make logical sense.  How does one shake off their shoes “against” someone?  To the Jew at this time, this action would have been a very clear communication.  When Jewish travelers were to leave Jerusalem and return; they would stop at the border and shake the dust off of their clothes and shoes.   The reason for doing this was to show that they were leaving the filth of the unbelieving corrupt world outside of Jerusalem.  The dust was considered unclean and a disgrace.  In the old testament we read that God told the people of Israel that nothing that defiles shall enter the camp.  The camp of God’s people was to remain undefiled.  So the action done by Paul and Barnabas sent a very straightforward message.  The message was that now defilement came from unbelief.  When shaking the dust off their feet “at them” they were calling these religious people unclean.  The holy things of God were never to come into contact with something that was unclean.  In a deeper sense they were showing the new covenant in Christ Jesus.  In this covenant, righteousness (or being cleansed) was attained by grace through faith.  The blood line no longer had anything to do with who heard the salvation message.  This group had rejected the Gospel, so Paul and Barnabas simply moved on to those who were willing to hear and accept it.  I believe that this is the essence of what is written in Hebrews 6:4-6a “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted of the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance…”   These people had the full revelation of God and rejected it.  What more could be done for them in order to cause them to repent?  I believe that we as churches often cater to those who have rejected the true Gospel of Christ while losing our focus on so many who have not truly heard it.

The next thing that we can look at to gain a deeper understanding of what was being spoken is the mentioning that John the baptist said he was unworthy to latch Jesus’ sandal.  When the Jewish rabbis trained the younger generation they, out of respect, became a servant to the rabbi.  The students would run errands, fetch things and help with every day tasks.  But it was written in the Talmud that a rabbi was not allowed to have a student latch or unlatch a rabbi’s sandal because it was considered too demeaning and went outside the scope of being a considerate servant.  John the baptist used this tradition to illustrate how glorious Jesus was.  John flipped the tradition on it’s head and stated that he was unworthy to latch Jesus’ sandal.

The third thing that we see in one little statement has nothing to do with the Jewish culture, but is easily overlooked.  John, known later as John Mark, Left the mission and went back to Jerusalem.  This mission trip must not have been what John had envisioned.  These journeys were probably not the most comfortable and the Jews, for the most part, did not greet them with open arms.  This action, as we will see later in this book, caused a rift between Paul, Barnabas and John Mark.

The last thing that I would like to mention out of this chapter is the reason for rejecting the Gospel by the religious Jews in the region of Pisidia.  In verse 45 we see some of the men, who were content the day before, turn to wrath and began blaspheming the Word and the apostles who preached it.  In verse 45 we are also given the reason.  They were simply envious; jealousy caused them to reject and try and stop the Gospel.  Their envy began when they saw the large crowds show up to hear the Word.  These religious leaders felt jilted because the people were excited about what someone else was saying.  The spot light, that was once on them, had shifted to the Savior and they would have no part in it.  I want to encourage those of you who God is using to produce fruit.  People have not changed.  When God works, people become selfish and jealous.  Many feel as if they have lost their importance, while many also see the active hand of God working in you and not them.  When this happens these people are forced to really examine their walk with Christ, their time in the Word and the true reason for why they are working.  Yes, once again, the people who gave the most resistance to the Gospel were not the lost sinners devoid of understanding, but the “church people.”

Thank you again for joining us in His Word together.

 

Pastor Steve

March 23rd Acts chapter 12

Today’s chapter shows a statement that I once read from favorite author:  “God’s power cannot be contested, His punishment cannot be avoided and His purposes cannot be frustrated.”  As Hebrews 10:31 states “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.”  God has given each of us, at creation, a free will.  This free will can be both a gift and a curse.  God is very patient and full of Grace; but He is by no means a push over or naive.  God has a desire that all come to repentance and He has made that way possible.  Those who oppose it will all face the fate of their foolishness and some more abruptly than others.  God had allow Herod much slack in his dealings with the early church, but friends, Herod picked the wrong fight in this chapter.  No person in Christ is loved any less or more than the other, we as believers, were all destitute in our sins and saved by grace.  But, that being said, God chooses people to His own liking for specific duties in carrying out and spreading His Gospel.  Jesus told Peter that he would be the rock on which the church would be built upon.  Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter which is translated “little rock.”  This could be looked at a “chip off the old block” in modern day terms.  Jesus had decided, by way of the Father, to use Peter to reach the globe for His kingdom. This made Peter’s position of utmost importance.  Notice that it is not the man that is important, but his position in Christ.  When Satan used Herod to try and take Peter out of the picture he paid the price with his life.  Herod also died in a very pitiful, disgusting way.  I remember reading the writings of Josephus, a secular historian at the time of Christ.  He mentions in his writings of this awful death of Herod.

God puts up with our running from Him, ignoring Him and not understanding Him to some extent.  But when God’s chosen man, who is doing His will, is trifled with, God often takes serious measures to stop it.  God could have given Herod a simple heart attack, but instead God made a statement; in essence he told the world, (in my own words) “Don’t be messin with my boy Peter.”  The same way that He had made a statement with the Egyptian army that He had drowned in the Red sea.  The nations surrounding Egypt knew not to mess with Israel.  God was protecting the line of the coming Messiah.  God’s love for Peter, or for the Israelites, was not what was being protected in either of these cases.  Peter, the day after his death, was in better shape than he had ever been before.  It would have been better for Peter to have died that day in regards to his own happiness, safety and security.  God protected the position insomuch that  myriads of people  would hear the Gospel through him from generation to generation.

It is amazing to hear pastors talk about people who have fought against ministries and pastors in their churches.  Many people were taken out in an untimely manner.  Once again, I don’t believe that God was protecting the person, but the position.  I have seen in my own ministry people who have befallen death when in outright opposition to the plans of God.  I have also seen some become very ill.  Now please don’t attribute every illness and accident to the wrath of God.  He is not sitting on an ant hill in heaven with a magnifying glass seeing who to “zap” next.  But it would be a wise thing for us all to think before we contest with the plan of God and the man of God.  In acts chapter five Gamaiel, a pharisee that had trained Paul, was meeting with the religious leaders about those who followed Jesus, he told them that many before had come pretending to be someone, but they died and their uprising had stopped.  He continued to warn them that if they pursued against the Apostles that they might be fighting God himself.

God had begun a new stage in the work of redeeming men to Himself.  Satan had pulled out all of the stops in his plans in order that he may squash the Gospel.  Once again, Satan may cause a havoc, but he can never stop the work.  I hope that we will remember once again; the battle is rough, but the victory has been won.

Pastor Steve