Thursday, February 28, 2013

Removing the Stumbling Blocks

Removing the Stumbling Blocks


“So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 14:12-17

Mmmm… The taste of fried beef liver, tenderized and smothered in onion gravy, piled atop a mound of mashed potatoes!  So delicious! But while I love liver, if you came to my house for dinner, I wouldn’t sit you down to a big plate of it.  I understand that not everyone appreciates liver as much as I do.  It’s an acquired taste, something I grew up with.  But to others, it gives way to heaves and gags, and well, it just wouldn’t be the loving thing to do to force you to eat liver! 
In the early days of the church, the apostles were sent out to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in Jewish, Greek, and Gentile communities.  Each community had their own traditions, foods, homes, and clothing.  They were culturally different, and sometimes those cultural ways became obstacles.  In order to be accepted by the community, the apostles had to make adjustments to assure they were accepted by each culture.  And God, knowing the hearts of men, provided apostles from all cultures so that there would be acceptable ministers.

One of those cultural differences was the law of circumcision, which the Jews found to be necessary for a man to follow God under the laws of Moses.  The Gentiles and the Greeks didn’t follow the laws of Moses and were not circumcised.  Because they were not, the Jews saw them as “unclean”.  In the early church at Judea, this became a stumbling block for many new Christians who could not separate the old covenant of law from the new covenant of grace.  They wanted to require new Christians to be circumcised and were teaching “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”(Acts 15:1)
This led to the first letter to the churches, which was called the Apostolic Decree.  It was a life-application sermon, and would be hand delivered to the churches in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.  In Acts 15:24-29, the decree says that because some were following the circumcision command, which the apostles had not given to the church, that they decided to tell them how they should live.  They told them to have no greater laws than to abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.

What happens in the following verses seems confusing until we understand why Paul did what he did.  Timothy, whose mother was a born-again Jew, and father was a Greek, joined up with the disciples to minister.  The first thing Paul did was circumcise him.  But it wasn’t because of Mosaic laws - but out of love for the Jewish people.  Paul recognized that the Jews in the region would get hung up over the fact that Timothy was not circumcised, and it would become a stumbling block for his ministry. So Paul, “circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region”.(Acts 16:3) 
Christians tend to do the same thing today.  We get hung up on things that don’t matter.  A minister with long hair, tattoos, piercings, earrings, or even a pink shirt can distract us from hearing what a minister says over their appearance.  We judge them based on our own cultural rules, the traditions in which we were raised. 

Romans 14:12-17 warns us to concern ourselves with the values of those we minister to, so that we don’t present a “stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way”.  Even when you know in your heart that there’s nothing wrong with eating liver, you shouldn’t serve it to someone who finds it unclean.  Romans 14:15-17 says that “if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Motivational speaker Stephen Covey is quoted as saying “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  But in order to keep the main thing the main thing, we have to remove the stumbling blocks from our ministries.  The little things that are distracting and offensive to those we want to see become Christians are small sacrifices for seeing them receive salvation.  Sometimes that can mean giving up eating red meat on Fridays, wearing a suit and tie, or wearing a dress when pants would be more comfortable.  In these little sacrifices we must make we assure that the good news is heard, we show love, and we assure that the main thing remains main thing – salvation through Jesus Christ.

No, eating liver is not wrong.  But causing someone else to stumble is. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Help Comes from the Lord

My Help Comes from the Lord


“I will lift up my eyes to the hill from whence comes my help?  My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” – Psalms 121:1-2

When the alarm went off this morning, this verse ran through my head. But so did a mass of sinus congestion, and yuckiness!  Being sick and feeling a bit of poor, poor, pitiful me, I slapped the alarm and rolled over.  I figured I would excuse myself from Bible study and writing this morning in hopes that more sleep would make me strong enough to get through the day.  Things never go well when we depend on our own strength, yet that’s exactly what I had in mind.  But the verse continued going through my head.  Thirty minutes later, because I am stubborn, I finally understood that what God was saying was, “Get up! I’ll help you!”
It’s funny how God works His message to us.  My study this morning was in Acts 13 & 14, giving me a beautiful example of God’s help to His servants.  Paul had been preaching with Barnabas in Antioch when the Jews rose up against him.  Acts 13:51-52 says, But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium.  And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Paul was becoming a master at enduring persecution.  Not only was he able to just walk away from the hatred of the Jews in Antioch, but he was “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit”. 

In Iconium Paul preached the gospel of Christ again, and many believed.  But the Jews there hated him also, and they “stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren.”(Acts 14:2) But Paul didn’t run away.  They stayed.  They stood their ground and spoke the word of God boldly, and performed miracles through the Holy Spirit.  But once the Jews had gained power against them, and threatened to stone them, they left and went to Lystra.
In Lystra Paul was preaching again, not being stopped or weakened in his faith, and not fearing the Jews.  Then the Jews from Antioch and Iconium came to Lystra.  They were hunting Paul down.  When they found him, Acts 14:19-20 says, having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.     

Paul was stoned to the point that they supposed him dead.  They dragged him, lifeless, out of the city.  Many believe Paul in fact did die, but received his life back when the disciples gathered around him.  Regardless of whether he died, or very nearly died, the rest of this passage is remarkable!  Paul got up. 
The stoning would have left Paul with open wounds and deep bruises, and possibly broken bones.  But Paul got up.  He went into the city, and the very next day went to Derbe.  Derbe was TWENTY MILES from Lystra!  After being nearly dead the day before and dragged outside the city, Paul has the strength to walk twenty miles, and start right back to preaching God’s word.  Surely God must have strengthened Paul, for there is no other way he could have recovered so quickly.  Paul later writes in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

God is quoted by the Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 41:10 saying, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  So let’s lift our eyes up, and look to Him when we are weak.  The one that made Heaven and Earth is our strength.  Whatever we face today, we have the promise of God that he will give us strength and help.  We are being held up, supported, by His righteous right hand.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Eaten Up With Pride

Eaten Up With Pride


So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them.  And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!”  Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.” – Acts 12:21-23

CS Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity wrote, “How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshiping an imaginary God.” At one time or another, we’ve all let our imaginations get away from us, and thought ourselves to be more than we are.  James 4:5-7 says that “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”, referring to God’s yearning to be first in our hearts.  He is deserving of nothing less than the throne of your heart.  When we give Him the throne freely, He gives us grace.  When we resist and assume the throne ourselves, God is jealous, and His wrath is fierce. 
Acts 12:21-23 tells of the death of King Herod due to his pride.  Being only a few verses in the book of Acts, we see the heart of Luke that he chose not to dwell on this man’s sin, but rather continue the story of the beginning of the Church.  To know the full story, we can refer to the historical account in the Antiquities of the Jews written by Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. 

King Herod was attending an annual sporting event that was held in honor of Caesar where vows of protection would be made for Caesar.  When Herod appeared, he wore a garment made entirely of silver. Coming to the arena early in the morning, “the first reflection of the sun's rays upon it, shone after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently on him.”  He sat high in the arena at a vantage point to see all the games. 
As Herod began to speak, the crowd began to shout “The voice of a god and not a man!”(Acts 12:22)  Josephus writes that they also shouted “Be thou merciful unto us, for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a king, yet shall we henceforth own thee as a superior to mortal nature." Josephus goes on to write, as does Luke, that Herod didn’t correct the people.  He allowed them to refer to him as a god, and to worship him.  Acts 12:23 says “Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.  Herod’s sin was that he stole glory from God.  Rather than instructing the people to worship God instead of him, he just soaked up all the glory he could get and his self-pride dethroned God in his heart.

Now don’t glance over the last part of verse 23 or you’ll miss how he died.  He didn’t die, and then be eaten by worms.  He was eaten by worms, and because of that – died!  Josephus writes that a severe pain arose in his belly, and he became violently ill.  After five days, he was completely worn out, eaten up, and at fifty four years of age, died. 
The next verse in Acts 12:24 speaks loudly contrasting God’s power over the oration of Herod who became sick even while speaking under the hand of God.  It says, “But the word of God grew and multiplied.  God does not share His glory with anyone.  He is a jealous God, seeking the throne of each and every heart.

But let’s not put all the blame on King Herod.  He wasn’t the only one at fault here.  A crowd of people contributed to his demise by worshipping him.  Their cries that he was “a god and not a man”, begging for mercy for not before recognizing him as “superior to mortal nature” gave opportunity to his pride. 
It’s a careful balance we must have in praising someone and promoting their own pride.  The scales are only in balance when we offer praise to God for working through them.  Whether it’s a beautiful song sung with the voice of an angel, a sermon preached with magnificent wisdom, or a good deed done by a child, we can reduce the opportunity for self-pride by giving glory to God.  God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.  In all forms of praise, we can be conduits of His grace.  He is Lord of All, and should be given honor and praise for all.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Jehovah Sabaoth

Jehovah Sabaoth

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” – Isaiah 43:2

One of the great Hebrew names of God is Jehovah Sabaoth.  It means ‘The Lord of Hosts’ or ‘The Lord of Powers’.  It refers to His protection over His people.  Sabaoth means armies or hosts, which can be translated as ‘The Lord of Armies’.  He is sovereign over all evil, both spiritual and earthly.
The apostle Peter got to see the power of Jehovah Sabaoth as he was in jail in Judea.   King Herod had gained the political favor of the Jews after he killed James, so he thought he’d have a second run at pleasing the people.  It was during the Passover, so he e had four squads of soldiers go after Peter, bind him in chains, and put him in prison.  His plans, no doubt, were to kill Peter the same way he had James.  And on the night that it happened, Peter was well guarded.  He was bound with chains between two soldiers, sleeping.  There were two posts of guards at the door of the prison.

Peter awoke to find an angel in front of him, shining, covered in light.  “Arise quickly! Gird yourself and tie on your sandals! Put on your garment and follow me!” the angel said.  Peter’s chains fell off!  He followed the angel past the first guard post.  He followed the angel past the second guard post.  When they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, it opened to them of it’s own accord.  They went down one street and Peter looked and the angel was gone (Acts 12:5-19).  Verse 11 says Peter came to himself, realizing this was not a dream, and said “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.”
God provided Peter’s release from prison because He is Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts.  But today He still delivers His people.  We don’t often hear about the rescues, and angels may not be seen when it occurs, but God is still present.

Take the Gulfport Church of God in Long Beach, Mississippi for example.  During Hurricane Katrina, the church was in the middle of a horrific storm.  Several church members huddled inside, and watched as signs were torn apart, the nearby parsonage ripped open, and as water started coming into the church, they prayed, and they mopped.  Once the hurricane had passed, they went outside to find destruction all around them, but their church was without a scratch.  In the days that followed, their church partnered with relief efforts and in one day fed over 6,000 hungry souls.  ( Did they see the power of Jehovah Sabaoth?  No one else has power over the winds and the waves.  They most definitely saw His deliverance.
Grace Rajan also saw the deliverance of God.  She was teaching Civil Engineering at a university in India, and on that day she had boarded a bus to travel home.  Her bus left the road, crashed into a ditch and caught fire.  Because of the small windows and no emergency exits, she and the other 51 passengers, were trapped and sure to burn to death.  But Grace remembered Psalms 91:11 which says, “For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.”  She began to pray these words, and as she opened her eyes she found herself on the roadside, outside the bus.  The other 51 passengers burned to death, but Grace was spared. (

God’s deliverance is all around us today.  It happens without notice. 
You run late in the morning to work, and in your hurry you see the accident on the side of the road, but never think that you could have been in it if you had been on time. 

You walk to the kitchen stove to see the skillet burning red hot, and turn off the stove just before it blazes fire through the house.

You get out of your car in a parking lot, just as others are walking into the store.  Being surrounded by others, total strangers, you’re not a target for the evil one lurking to steal a purse or worse.
Isaiah 43:2 says “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” He has promised that he will be with you through all danger, and He will guard you.  This is the love of our Father, protecting His beloved children.

Psalms 91 reads beautifully of the safety that can be found in His protection.
“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”

Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
Only with your eyes shall you look,
And see the reward of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.
In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.
“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him,
And show him My salvation.”

His angels have charge over you.  Peter found God’s protection, and saw His angel lead him from eminent death to freedom.  But He has most likely spared us all at one time or another.  He said He has given “His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways”. Surely there is nothing to fear when God is your protector. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Shhh...Jesus is Praying!

Shhh...Jesus is Praying!


And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” – Luke 22:31
I’ve had sort of a “poor, poor, pitiful me” kind of morning.  Being sick again for the 5th time in eight weeks, I’m just really tired of being sick and tired.  I began to ask God, “What’s your purpose in this? What do you stand to gain?  Where is your glory to be found in this?”  I know nothing - not ONE thing - happens without His sending it or allowing it.  He is almighty God, able to stop anything He chooses from entering my life.  As I sat wondering what the purpose of this was, He sent a television commercial to remind me of what Jesus had said to Peter. 

Peter was strong in his faith, perhaps stronger than any of the other twelve disciples.  It was Peter that in Matthew 16:15-20 Jesus asked “But who do you say that I am?”  Jesus could have asked anyone, but knowing the heart of Peter, He wanted to hear him confess it.  Peter answered “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” At that time Jesus renamed Peter, gave him a new identity.  He said “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.  And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.  And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Jesus renaming Peter is important to note.  The name Bar-Jonah means shifting sand, which is unsteady, changing ground.  But the name Peter means rock, a stone, unmovable.  Jesus saw the strength of Peter’s faith, and his new identity as Peter was evidence of what Jesus saw in his heart, an unshakeable faith.  It was this strong faith upon which Jesus would build His church.  He said that hell would not prevail against it, it would hold the keys to heaven, and have the power to bind on earth and cause the same to be bound in heaven. 

At this point, Peter gained a reputation in hell as one to be challenged.  While Satan will take down those that are weak in their faith on a daily basis, he desires those that are God’s trophy children.  He desires to mount us on his wall as a poacher would a 20-point buck!  Jesus knew that as well.  The business of hell is still God’s business.  He made heaven and hell.  Nothing goes on there that does not get God’s attention.
Time had passed, and it was the night of Jesus’ betrayal, hours before it would occur.  Jesus has just finished Passover with His disciples.  He had washed their feet.  Peter realizing that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, refused to allow Him to wash his feet because he felt it was beneath Jesus to serve him.  But then when Jesus explained that “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me”, Peter quickly answered, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”(John 13:8-9).  Peter desired nothing more than to be where Jesus was, to be a part of all He was doing.

Then Jesus warned His disciples of His upcoming death, and a time when He would no longer be with them on earth.  Peter couldn’t stand the thought of being without Christ!  Jesus saw this in Peter’s heart as well, and tells Peter in Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
Satan would have liked nothing more than to sift Peter, the shake him in his sifter, and shake him until he fell apart.  Satan wanted to see Peter, the rock, broken, and returned to shifting sand!  But Jesus prayed for him.  Jesus prayed to God - not for Peter to be spared the sifting process - but for his faith not to fail.  He prayed that Peter’s faith would be strong, and that he would go through the trials Satan had in store for him successfully. 

God would gain no glory in our lives if they were continually easy, with no bumps in the road or fires to walk through.  How much faith would it take to live a life of continual bliss?  But when we are tested, when we have troubles, trials, and sickness, then our faith is sifted.  Then God stands to glory from our faith in Him. 
Count it all joy when your faith is tested. When you are tested your faith grows and produces patience.  And patience, when it is completed, will find you perfect and complete, lacking nothing.  (James 1:2-4)

So Satan, hear this.  My faith may not be much bigger than a mustard seed, but it’s not going through your sifter! I’ll clog it up and cause you nothing but wasted energy! Don’t mess with God’s child, because this one is a rock! So what if I have an upset stomach or a cough or runny nose.  Jesus is praying for me (Romans 8:34), and well loser, you should know by now how that will turn out!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Equipping

The Equipping


But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches.” – 1 Corinthians 7:17

She was a good woman.  In Acts 9:36 we read of Tabitha, who lived in Joppa.  She was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.” She had a lot of friends, as was seen when Peter arrived at her house in Joppa.  But on that day, Tabitha had died. 
The widows who were attending to her had washed her body and laid her in an upper room of the house.  Peter went to the house, and there the widows were crying over the loss of their friend, and talking of Tabitha’s goodness.  They showed Peter all the beautiful tunics and clothes she had made while she was alive.  It would have been easy for Peter to have just joined in the celebration of Tabitha’s life, and moved on.  But God had other plans in sending Peter to Tabitha’s house that day.

It must have seemed strange when Peter asked everyone to leave the room, leaving only himself and the dead body of Tabitha in the upper room.  But then, in the quietness of the room, he turned to Tabitha’s dead body, and through the power of God said only two words, “Tabitha, arise.”  Immediately she opened her eyes and saw Peter, and sat up!  Then he called all that were there back into the room and presented her to them, raised from the dead! (Acts 9:36-43)
It’s often said that God does not call the equipped, but equips the called.  Peter was most definitely equipped to raise Tabitha from the dead.  In Luke 7:11-17 we read of Jesus raising a widow’s son from the dead, and Peter was there.  In John 11:40-44, Peter also watched as Jesus brought His friend Lazarus back to life.  In Mark 5:21-43, Peter was present when Jesus called out to the ruler of the synagogue’s dead twelve year old daughter, and she was raised back to life.  In these events God taught Peter that he had the power through the Holy Spirit to bring the dead back to life.  But God didn’t stop there.

In Matthew 17:1-9 when Moses and Elijah, who had long been dead, were transfigured on the mountain with Jesus, Peter was there and saw that death has no power in the presence of God, for there is life even after death.  In Mark 16:7 when Mary and Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb of Christ, the angel told them to “go, tell His disciples—and Peter”,  specifically naming Peter, that he should know that Christ was resurrected, and that he would see Him again in Galilee.  Peter is one of two disciples that came to the empty tomb of Jesus to see once again that death has no victory.  He learned that the dead only sleep, and that life goes on far after the flesh dies.  His confidence was built by seeing that God, whose Holy Spirit lived in him, had power over death.
It wasn’t by coincidence that Peter had been present when so many were raised from the dead, and to see the empty tomb of Christ.  He was being taught in each and every event.  This was his equipping for the work in which he would perform at the bedside of Tabitha.  This was where his faith grew that the power of God could bring the dead back to life.

God has a lesson plan for each of us.  We each walk through life, facing a certain set of events, and receiving specific wisdom from His word.  This is our equipping for His work.  The events strengthen our faith, not only for our own good, but for the work in which He calls us to do.  He provides trials in our lives and the lives of those around us, to equip us and give us a testimony to share (2 Corinthians 1:4).  Our part is to be a good student, learn from God, and apply what we’ve learned in our service to Him. 
When faced with Jesus’ command in Matthew 10:7-8 to “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons”, we know that we should be able to do these things through the power of the Holy Spirit.  God’s Holy Spirit has not lost power since the days of Peter!  He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  So what’s changed? Why is it that the blind don’t see, the crippled don’t walk, demons stand against us, and we are surrounded by those that are sick? 

God still equips us for the work in which we are called.  But if we never recognize the tools of faith we have been given, and accept our calling, we’ll never use them.  In each lesson He teaches, we have to see what we were taught, and where our faith grew.  He hasn’t stopped equipping His children for His work.  So the question becomes, what did He equip you to do?  Did He give you faith to believe in healing through prayer by delivering you from sickness through prayer?  Did He restore to you the joy of your salvation to show you that it can be done?  Did He give you faith to believe in resurrection by bringing you back to life when you should have remained dead?  Did He deliver you from depression and anxiety to show you that He has power over the demons that oppress His children? 
Apply the faith in God that you have been given through the path of your life, and the lessons you were taught to your service to God.  Your calling can be found in how God has equipped you.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Chosen Vessel

The Chosen Vessel


Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” – Acts 9:13

One of the greatest obstacles a new Christian can face is his reputation.  We just aren’t willing to accept that God has changed them without seeing it.  And even then, sometimes we will reject the fact that God has created a new creature in Christ, and the old creature has died.  We can look at the blackest lump of coal, and see the possibility of a diamond.  We can look at the thorn covered rose bush, and find beauty.  We can even look at something as disgusting as a frog and think, “mmm….I bet those legs would be good fried!”, but we cannot see God in a newborn Christian past the reputation of a dead man!
A perfect example is given in that of Saul and Ananias.  Saul (later called Paul) had just had his Damascus road experience, meeting Jesus face-to-face.  It’s impossible to come face-to-face with the holiness of Jesus and not be changed.  Immediately Saul’s heart was changed, and he said in Acts 9:6, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”  He was a willing servant from the very start of his conversion. 

He waited for three days without sight in Damascus for the question to be answered.  For three days he neither ate nor drank.  It was not due to a lack of sight that he didn’t eat, for he travelled with companions that could have fed him.  But having understood the ways of the Christians he had hunted, he fasted and prayed.  Fasting takes a lot of obedience to God, and reduces our spirit to humility.  This was the spirit of Saul for the first three days of his Christian life as he waited for God to give him direction.  He sits praying to God for three days and God is speaking to him about a man He will send to him to restore his sight.  Yet, everyone around him still knew him as Saul, the Christian killer, with a reputation that was anything but Christian!  All he had to do was appear outside the door of the house he was in, and Christians would run and hide.
But in the same town of Damascus, God had a disciple named Ananias.  After three days, God spoke to Ananias and said “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”

Can you imagine Ananias first thoughts at hearing God was sending him to pay ‘THE Saul of Tarsus’ a visit!  Can you imagine his fear as he hears God say that Saul has seen him, “a man named Ananias” in a vision!  He’s already been on Saul’s mind!  It had not been many days since Saul had participated in the stoning of Stephen.  His reputation of hating Christians was fresh with stories of his latest attacks.  Acts 8:2 says that “he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.  As he went to receive permission to go to Damascus, Acts 9:1 says he was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord”.  He was travelling to Damascus to capture more worshippers – such as Ananias.
Ananias answered God with his doubts, saying in Acts 9:13-14, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” Ananias was afraid, and rightly so!  But God answered him saying, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”  Imagine Ananias’ shock at hearing God call Saul “a chosen vessel of Mine”! 

At this point, Ananias did something that many of us have trouble doing today.  He freed Saul of his past.  He put down the reputation of Saul as the Christian slayer, and went to see the chosen vessel. 
As we read this story, we can see two chosen vessels.  Yes, Saul was one, but Ananias was another.  Had he been unwilling for follow God’s will, we wouldn’t have judged him.  Few of us would follow God’s instruction if He were to send us to the leader of Hamas to preach the gospel for fear of our lives.  But Ananias was a chosen vessel, chosen to be the first Christian to reach out to Saul and accept him into the family of God.

Ananias went to the street Straight, and entered the house where Saul was.  He addresses Saul as “Brother Saul”, immediately accepting his conversion.  He laid hands on him, and restored his sight, and Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit.  He arose from his place, and Ananias baptized Saul. 

Our churches need more Ananias’, more chosen vessels of God’s grace.  We need to be willing to free new believers of their past and accept them with expectations of a glorious new life.  How many might be transformed from a Saul to a Paul if we would only allow them to live the new life God has given them without dragging the reputation of the “old man” behind them.    

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Motives Matter

Motives Matter


And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 8:18-19

They prey on those that are in need, and desiring that God to fill those needs.  All you have to do is turn on the TV late at night and you’ll hear their false claims:
“If you will only plant this small seed in our ministry, for $20 you will become rich.”

“For your gift of $50, you can purchase a prayer package, and our ministry will pray over you.  We will pray over you in holy tongues, speaking directly to the Father on your behalf.”
“For your donation we will send you the Miracle Spring Water, which will heal all your diseases, cause you to receive checks in large sums for no reason, and have total victory in every area of your life.”

The above are paraphrased examples of actual product scams made by televangelists peddling God for money.  The scams are so easily spotted by looking at the motive of the “minister”.  God’s gifts are not sold on TV.
There are good products, such as books and CD’s, sold on religious television shows as well, which sometimes are overlooked in the light of all the scams.  There are those ministers that truly are sent by God and anointed to preach His Word.  But you can tell them apart from these false prophets by looking at their motives.  A truly anointed minister of God isn’t going to require you to give a donation to receive God’s word because getting your money is not their motive.  Winning your soul and life to Christ is their motive.  They also won’t promise you things that are not in their power to give.  No one can sell you the spiritual gifts of God.  God cannot be bought.  He is priceless. 

In Acts 8 we read of Philip’s travel to Samaria.  Because of the persecution of the church after Stephen’s martyrdom, it had dispersed to all the regions of the area around Jerusalem.  In Samaria, Philip preached and performed many miracles and signs through the Holy Spirit in him.  Many more came to believe in Jesus, and were baptized. 
There is confusion about what happens next regarding Peter and John being sent to these new believers.  In Acts 8:14-17 we read “Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”  Being believers, they had the Holy Spirit living in them, which is the seal of our salvation (Romans 8:16, Ephesians 1:13).  But they had not received the supernatural gifts of ministry through the Holy Spirit, such as healing and casting out demons.  For this purpose, Peter and John came to Samaria to lay hands upon the believers so they would receive these gifts. 

In Samaria, there was a man named Simon, who was a sorcerer (one who performs magic and witchcraft), and was claimed to be “the great power of God”(Acts 8:10).  The people followed him and believed his powers were from God.  But when Philip came and preached, many became believers and were baptized.  Simon himself believed (Acts 8:13) and was baptized and followed Philip, amazed at the miracles and signs that were done through the Holy Spirit working in Philip (Acts 8:13).
Simon, thinking that the gifts of the Holy Spirit should be sold instead of given freely, offered them money saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter rebuked him of this sin and said in Acts 8:20-23, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”

There are those that misunderstand this to mean that Simon was indeed not saved.  But he was.  We were already told in verse 13 that he had believed.  Notice also that Peter tells him to repent of “this your wickedness”, and not a plurals “sins”.  Peter further points out the sins in question by saying that Simon was “poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”  If Simon had been an unbeliever, Peter would have addressed his unbelief in Christ.  But instead, he addressed Simon’s bitterness that his profession of sorcery had faded from the limelight as the mysterious signs of the Holy Spirit had been seen.  His sin was one of thinking he could make money from the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Simon accepted the correction of Peter and replied, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”(Acts 8:24).  Again, his requesting prayer of Peter was not a request made by an unbeliever, for an unbeliever would have had no reason to believe prayer was of any value.  He requested that the sins of his heart would not be manifested in his life.  Had Peter not rebuked Simon, we might have had the first example of a product scam in Acts 8! 

In Matthew 10 Jesus is speaking to the twelve disciples, and sending them out to their ministry.  Matthew 10:1 we read that, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.” They didn’t buy it or earn it, but Jesus gave it to them.  In Matthew 10:8 Jesus instructs them regarding these gifts, saying Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.  Their motive was to be ministry – not money.  Likewise, our motive, having freely received, should always be to freely give.
The one time in Jesus’ ministry when we see Him acting in righteous indignation was when He went to the temple and found people there selling animals for sacrifice, and exchanging currencies.  When he addressed those that were using the temple as a marketplace, he said in Matthew 21:13 “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

It’s easy to spot the fakes when it comes to televangelist offering up products for financial gain!  Some of them might as well be wearing a flashing green neon sign saying “FAKE!”  But what about our own motives? Do we offer the gift of healing only to those we think deserve it?  Do we freely apply the gifts we have been given?  When God calls us to use our gifts, to we give freely?  Or do we use them when there are opportunities for social gain, fame, or positional gain in the church? 
God’s gifts are never to be sold or bartered.  His gifts are priceless, and ours only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  Freely we have received the gifts, and freely – without thought of any compensation whether tangible or intangible – we are to give.  These gifts are not our own, but belong to the Holy Spirit living in us.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Live Out Loud

Live Out Loud


You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers,  who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”– Acts 7:51-53

Stephen is often remembered most for his death.  He was the first Christian Martyr recorded in God’s word.  But in his life, Stephen shows tremendous boldness in his faith.  He lived out loud, seeing the gift of salvation through Christ as worthy of his full allegiance in the face of adversity.
Picture it.  Stephen has been lied against, and brought before the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, just as Jesus was lied against and brought before the same religious court.  He is asked to speak for himself, just as Jesus was asked to speak for himself.  Stephen, having known the actions of the Sanhedrin against Jesus should have trembled in fear.  He should have been broken down to begging for his life.  He should have been forced to dispel the accusations brought against him.  But instead...he preaches.

He preaches of Joseph and how God was with him when his brothers were against him. He preached about Moses being born in a time when he should have died, but being placed in a basket and found in the water.  He told of Moses being raised in the Pharaoh of Egypt’s house, but forced to leave.  He told of his return to serve his people’s freedom.  He preached the parting of the red sea, the laws being given to the Israelites while they were in the wilderness, the sin of idolatry that continually was committed by the Israelites, and finally, the temple built by Solomon.  None of this was news to the Sanhedrin.  They were experts at religious history.
But then Stephen crossed that thin line, and instead of preaching history that the Sanhedrin would accept, he preached from the Holy Spirit within him what would not be accepted.  In Acts 7:48-50 he quotes from the book of Isaiah, and says, “However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool.  What house will you build for Me? says the Lord, or what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things?’”.

The Sanhedrin were very proud, religious people.  Being proud of the temple in which they served, they rejected God’s words regarding a temple not made with hands.  They had rejected the words of God saying that because His hands had made everything, they had nothing to offer Him. They continually walked in their religious ways trying to attain righteousness of their own law keeping.  Like most religious people, they had expertise at rationalizing and twisting the scriptures they didn’t like. 
Then it happened.  The Holy Spirit within Stephen saw their unwillingness to believe, and their hearts that were bent on killing Stephen just as they had crucified Christ.  Then the Holy Spirit proclaimed judgment against the Sanhedrin through the voice of Stephen.  He boldly cried out against those that held his life in their hands!

You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”( Acts 7:51-53)
Stephen allowed the Holy Spirit to speak through him, accusing his accusers at a time when most would have been begging for their life!  He charged them with the death of Christ.  He called them “betrayers and murderers”, laying the sins of lying and murder at their feet.  Jesus, in this same temple had recognized these same sins, and attributed them to Satan, saying in John 8:44, You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him“. The Sanhedrin would have remembered Jesus’ words when Stephen again pointed out their sins.  

Immediately, they ran at him, riotous, and took him out of the city and began to stone him.
What could the Holy Spirit working in Stephen have hoped to accomplish through his martyrdom?  Why did Stephen not remain silent when questioned with the possibility of going free?  In all our suffering and persecution the Holy Spirit is working to glorify God, to complete His work in all of us.

If we look around the stoning of Stephen, we see a man named Saul.  Saul was a professional Christian killer.  His job was to hunt them down and kill them.  He was well known throughout Jerusalem for his work.  And in doing that work, he learned quite a bit about the faith of Christians, and their beliefs.  There he stands, holding the robes of those who stoned Stephen, and watching as Stephen says “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He listened as Stephen begged God to forgive even his own sins, and said “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.  He recognized how much Stephen was like Jesus in what he said when faced with death.
Etched in Saul’s memory would be the word of Stephen, brave beyond comprehension!  Forever written in his heart were the words of Stephen, asking God to forgive even him, as they took his life.  Saul was there to see Stephen living the Christian life out loud, and loving his enemies just as Jesus had taught. 

Having not experienced death first hand, perhaps this was the memory that Saul [Paul], had when he wrote 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, which says “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
How many times Paul would stand in court to give an account of his faith!  God had given him an example for those times long before his conversion by allowing Stephen to demonstrate the boldness of his faith.

Each day that we live, we are noticed by believers and non-believers alike.  Subconsciously, those who see how we live in Christ learn about Christianity from us.  It has been said that you may be the only Bible some will ever read.  In our victories, they see the power of the Holy Spirit within us, giving us strength to stand and face the trials we endure.  Saul may have thought he was in a courtroom the day that Stephen testified, but he was in God’s classroom. 
Who will you teach today?  What will others learn by watching you live out loud?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Borrowed Faith

Borrowed Faith


Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was present to heal them. Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him.  And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus.  When He saw their faith, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” – Luke 5:17-20
I’ve heard a lot of folks say “I can worship God at home, I don’t need church.”  Yes, it’s true that you can worship God anywhere, because He is everywhere.  But if you feel you “don’t need church”, you’ve missed the point of church.  It’s not just about congregational worship, or being fed God’s word from a minister.  It’s also about finding the strength you need in others.

Sometimes the mountain is just too big to move on your own.  Your faith may be strong, and you may be prayed up, fasted, anointed, and in the Word 24/7.  But eventually, God’s going to give you a mountain that you can’t move on your own.   

Faith is like a muscle, and we’re like weight lifters.  A weight lifter begins training with a small weight.  But if they only lift 100 lbs. and stop at that, they’re never going to be able to lift more than 100 lbs.  So their coach will give them more.  They are encouraged to try 105 lbs., 110 lbs., and when they finally reach that weight that becomes too much of a burden, they call for a spotter.  The job of the spotter is to “spot” when the lifter needs help, and step in and help them lift the weight. 

Church is where you find “spotters” for your faith.  There are times when we all will face a trial that our own faith is just too weak to overcome.  Maybe the burden is too much bigger than what we’ve successfully lifted in the past.  Maybe we’ve carried the weight of the burden too long and expended all our faith.  Maybe the trial is too costly to lose, and fear overcomes our faith.  Regardless of why, there comes a time when we all need to reach out to someone else, borrowing some of their faith.

In Luke 5:17-20 we read of a man who had been paralyzed his entire life.  Jesus had come to town and was teaching a packed house, and healing those that needed healing.  This news must have excited the paralyzed man - yet also become a burden.  How could he get to the house where Jesus was?  And even if he did, how could he push past the crowd?  How would he get Jesus’ attention in a packed house when he couldn’t even stand?

But as Jesus is speaking, the tile roof begins to be torn away, and the man is lowered on a cot to be placed right in front of Jesus.  When the paralyzed man could not come to Jesus of his own strength, he borrowed the strength of others.  But it wasn’t just their biceps and triceps he borrowed.  He borrowed their faith.  In Verse 20 we read “When He saw their faith, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”, and the paralyzed man walked away healed.  Whose faith? THEIR faith.

His friends had great faith that Jesus was the healer that they had heard about.  They believed that if they just got their friend to him, Jesus would heal him.  Their faith gave them strength in the face of discouragement.  Having gotten to the house where Jesus was, and not been able to enter because of the crowd, they didn’t stop believing!  They climbed on the roof, found rope, and lifted their friend up.  They tore open the tiles on the roof, and lowered their friend to Jesus.  And they didn’t plan for their friend’s exit from the house through the roof because they believed – in faith - that he would walk out!

There’s a song by Bebo Norman called Borrow Mine.  Its lyrics are about receiving help in your weakness.  You don’t have to bear your burdens alone.    

“You can borrow mine when your hope is gone
Borrow mine when you can't go on
'Cause the world will not defeat you when we're side by side
When your faith is hard to find, you can borrow mine, borrow mine.”

Borrow Mine.  That’s a message each and every Christian should offer to their friends.  When your faith isn’t strong enough - don’t give up, don’t give in.  When you have no hope left, when you have no strength left, borrow mine.  Find a “spotter” that will say, “Borrow Mine”.  You don’t have to carry your load alone.