Thursday, September 10, 2009

Acts, Chapter 6 revisited

Advancing the cause of God does not always have to be converting thousands at a time in a mass service. You can advance the cause of God in small ways as well, and we see that exhibited here in chapter 6 of acts. As the early church grew, it needed others to do some of the busy work that comes with being part of a large organization. The disciples, though gifted from God, could not handle every single task. That is why we see seven other believers here appointed as decision makers. Here, they serve in a role of distributors, deciding where goods and services controlled by the church needed to go. This is not the glorious role of winning converts, but it is still incredibly important because it was a job within in the church that needed to be done.

In the second part of this chapter we see Stephen, perhaps one of the most gentle apostles, get arrested for spreading the gospel. This would eventually lead to his martyrdom by stoning, but the way he handled this terrible accusations is a great example for us to follow.

8Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. 9Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, 10but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. – Acts 6:8-10

Once again, this comes down to jealousy. Stephen was speaking and acting with the full power of God behind him. Unfortunately, the Sanhedrin did not like this because it would result in a loss of their earthly power. It was their greed that led to his arrest, even though he was doing the work of God.

This raises the question: Do you have what it takes to do the work of God even in the face of oppression? Stephen’s work cost him his life, as we will see in the next chapter. He faced his death with a smile that could have only come from God’s direct strength and intervention. I admit that now, at a time where it is hard to smile about anything, that it would be difficult to follow in Stephen’s footsteps.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Acts, chapter 5 part 2 revisited

Behold the power of God to triumph over the foolish plans of men. That is what we see here in Acts 5. Once again, the leaders of the day thought they could stop the gospel, this time by taking a different tact. Once again, they failed. We have evidence because the gospel is still going strong today despite their efforts.

34But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."

40His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. – Acts 5:34-40

I have never heard of Judas the Galilean or Theudas. I have, however, heard of Jesus. Instead of continuing to persecute the disciples, the Pharisees decided that leaving them alone was best. Gamaliel was actually quite astute here, and it makes me wonder what he thought of this situation later on. He knew that if they left it alone and the movement didn’t die out they would be fighting against God, which they were.

Does this give us hope for the future? Absolutely! I am encouraged that the gospel will go on despite my efforts, even though I don’t feel as if I am living the gospel like I am asked to.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Acts, chapter 5 part 1 revisited

First of all, I do want to praise God this morning. A couple that are some very good friends of ours welcomed their first child into the world early this morning. It is my prayer that God will continually watch over and protect this wonderful blessing, and that this young man will accomplish wonderful things for God’s kingdom in return.

This is a wonderful example of what God can accomplish when living by faith. This ties in because we see a poor example and a good example in the beginning of Acts chapter 5. The first part, Ananias and Sapphira were given a piece of property they intended to sell and give the money to Christ’s cause. Instead of giving the entire thing, however, they kept a piece for themselves.

5When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

7About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?"
"Yes," she said, "that is the price."

9Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also." – Acts 5:5-9

We see the opposite of this in the following verses. Here people traveled for hundreds of miles, not easy in that day and time, just to have the shadow of Peter cast upon them so they could be healed. These people were very different from Ananias and his wife. They fully believed in the power of Christ to provide everything for them, including healing if needed. They were rewarded for their faith, while Ananias was punished for his lack of faith because he didn’t believe God would cover all his needs.

I wish I could carry this kind of faith over to my own life. I lie awake at night wonder if that is what holds me back in so many areas.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Acts, chatper 4 part 2 revisited

We finish chapter 4 of Acts with Peter and John returning to the disciples. At this point, the group was still relatively small. They could have reacted to the formal warning sent down by the Sanhedrin in fear, but that was not part of God’s plan. I am actually very proud of what they did as a response. Since they were told not to do something they went ahead and did it anyway because they knew it was right.

This is also a great place that provides an example of the power of prayer. Currently, this is an encouragement to me because I need more examples to the power of prayer. The disciples chose to seek God and His council first instead of cowering in fear from an earthly power.

31After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. – Acts 4:31

This is the response we need to have when faced with adversity. God’s kingdom will advance either because of us or despite us. When presented with an obstacle that obviously goes opposite of what he intends it is our duty to resist that obstacle in any way possible. That is what the disciples did here. Through their faith they moved the kingdom forward and were empowered by the Holy Spirit. This gave them the initial strength to face even more challenges ahead.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Acts, chapter 4 part 1 revisited

I love the first part of Acts 4. It speaks to my character, as Peter and John are called before the Sanhedrin. As happened with Jesus, the Sanhedrin saw themselves as threatened. They knew that if the gospel of Jesus spread, they would lose their influence. With that loss would come a loss of power, money, and fame. They could not stand for this, especially after the whole killing of Jesus thing kind of blew up in their face when He came back from the dead.

What I like about this is that Peter and John continued to preach the truth, even when threatened by those in power above them. Those that know me know this is well within my nature. I have no problem telling the truth, bluntly if needed, because I cannot stand lying just to make someone feel better. This has caused me problems in the past because I often lack tact in these situations, but to me, telling the truth is more important than my perception to other people.

18Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. 20For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." – Acts 4:18-20

When it comes to the truth, especially concerning Christ, there should never be compromise when spreading the gospel. What Peter and John faced as consequences here is tame compared to what other disciples face later in Acts. If they can move forward and preach the Good News without fear then we can as well.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Acts, chapter 3 revisited

What is a miracle like today. I have been thinking of this for some time. I have felt that a miracle is needed for my current state of partial employment to end. I have felt a miracle is needed for our current state of life to change. We have been very unhappy with the way our lives have been lately. We have tried everything to envoke change, but nothing has worked. Naturally, the only thing left to hope for is a miracle.

In Acts 3 we see a true miracle performed by Peter, as he healed the crippled beggar outside the temple. Where is the true message here? Is it in the miracle itself? No! It comes from the faith of the crippled man that he could be healed by the power of God. Sometimes it is not the power of God that really does anything, but it is is the faith in God that accomplishes a lot.

13The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see. – Acts 3:13-16

Was Peter given a power by God that we do not have access to because we are not apostles? No. Through faith, we can accomplish our own set of miracles. I like to believe that it was year of faith and prayer that led to the salvation of my aunt, who has been debilitated and embittered by multiple sclerosis for years. I do not know her heart, but I know that God can do some pretty amazing things with the human heart.

Lately I have been so focused on the change that needs to happen in my own life I have had trouble seeing outside of myself. This has led to some pretty depressing days, as it has been hard to even move. As I start to look outside, however, I see the faith of God coming back. If I can see Him work in the lives of others, it gives me hope that some day He’ll be working in my life again.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Acts, chapter 2 revisited

The power of the Holy Spirit is amazing. I know this because of two things. First, I have felt it work in my life, allowing me to accomplish great things. Second, I haven’t felt it in some time. As a result, my life has felt purposeless and bereft of any direction to go in. It is a hard feeling to live with.

In Acts 2 we see the most significant even that the disciples were witness to since the Crucifixion. Though they had replaced Judas and done some minor administrative housekeeping duties in chapter 1, it is here in chapter two that their ministry truly begins, as they receive the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. – Acts 2:1-4

This is some powerful stuff. We see later in the chapter that they added 3,000 tot heir number based on Peter’s teaching this day. This is also the first time we truly see Peter taking the leadership role that Jesus had planned for him. If we receive the strength of the Holy Spirit in our lives, suddenly everything becomes clear. Anything also becomes possible at that point.