And So It Begins–Acts 12

Paul and Barnabas were beginning to do the work God had planned for a Millennium.  Since Abram left Haran, It was always God’s mission to raise a nation of priests and evangelists to reconcile fallen men to creator, father and friend. Still while the work among the Jews and gentiles was making a huge difference, the opposition to their efforts was certainly rising.
 
While one would assume the opposition would come from the ignorant and the unchurched, in fact, the opposition was coming from the leaders in the very community that God called to lead the movement.  The Jewish religious leaders were to be the ones to carry the message of God’s love to the world–yet, as with the time of Jesus ministry, they rose to be the most vocal and defiant enemies of God.  As with any opposition, they started small and quiet, but, as God grew the church, the enemy raised the number and stakes for the opposition.
 
In current culture, the Church is faced with rising opposition as well.  In our case, the movement to remain holy and relevant is meeting opposition from the politically correct in its leadership.  Certainly, God is being openly opposed in the halls of Government; but, he is also being marginalized in the pulpits.  Issues of the Bible’s inerrancy, the churches stand on  marriage and life all bring out religious opposition.  As such, the more evangelical and fundamental part of the church are being opposed by the mainline church. 
 
We can expect to face increase opposition and even persecution unless God’s core message reemerges as revival sweeps the land. Should that happen, do not be surprised if the torch bearers of the persecution come from within the ranks of religious leadership–the enemy always strikes hardest from within; not from without!
 
God Bless You

As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.

46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us:

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
    that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Jew or Gentile, the Good News Remains the Same!

One of the great misconceptions in the world of Christianity is that God changed! There was the God of the old testament–Gruff and curmudgeonly, waiting to somehow strike at every uncrossed t or non-dotted I. Then POOF-Jesus came and God just changed, he became a God of love and wanted to pitch grace and mercy about on any and everyone sprinkled with rainbows and unicorn dust… 

Truth is, God has always been the same since before creation, he knew men would be a messy lot.  He loved men like none other, but knew that they would choose to be self-absorbed and independent of him every chance they got.  He led them through the faith of Abraham, the life of Joseph, the Exodus of Moses, the leadership of judges, kings, emperors and finally his son. Men’s hearts remained evil but his love never ceased. He allowed men to experience the consequences of their choices. But always called them to trust, submit and follow him.

So as God sent the 1st missionaries from the church, it was not a new direction–it was the same God that raised a nation of priests–Israel. He still loves men and desires that none should perish. We are the new missionaries. We share his gospel to all that will listen.  We hold no regard for race, sex, nationality or financial position.  He loves all and seeks to be in relationship with us–just as he did in the 1st century.  Then and now he loves like only a father can.  Help me, Lord to follow and share your Gospel as a loving son would.

God Bless You

 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.

32 “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:

“‘You are my son;
    today I have become your father.’

34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said,

“‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’

35 So it is also stated elsewhere:

“‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’

36 “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.

38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:

The 1st Missionary Journey–Acts 13 part 1

As God revealed his mission to the church, the church, after prayer and fasting simply followed God as he led.  The result was the church’s growth in Europe and Asia.  It started out with Elders like Barnabas, young fire bands like Paul and youthful assistants like John Mark.
The Mission was to trust God and share the gospel of hope to anyone that would listen.  The team set out after much prayer to the Island of Cypress.  There they spread the gospel to all that would listen up to and including the Proconsul–Governor of Cypress.  In the attempt, Paul and Barnabas encountered great opposition from the Governor’s personal assistant.  God used the trial to establish his power and to end the conflict.  The assistant was blinded and the Governor was led to Christ.  It was a turning point in the churches growth in the journey.
 
In our personal journey, we have to bathe our steps in prayer and then trust God to guide and direct.  As we do we will encounter trial and opposition that will many times seem overwhelming. If we are willing to stay the course, and trust God to do the work–the impact could be amazing and world changing.  There is simply no way of knowing the spirit’s plan or power to do his mission.  There is a plethora of history, however, that shows God will complete his plan in a way that is dramatic and complete.  All we must do is trust him and follow his lead. 
 
God Bless You
1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch and Saul.While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.

When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.

They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus,

who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God.

But Elymas the sorcerer for that is what his name means opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.

Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said,

“You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?

Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand.

When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

24 But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.

Herod’s Bad Day–Acts 12 Part 2

Herod Just was not having a very good day.  He had struck on a way to become popular to the opposing sides of His kingdom– the Romans and Jews.  The common cause–wipe out the Church.  Herod had captured the Church’s leader, Peter.  God released Peter and no one could find him.  This made Herod furious.  He was going to punish the carelessness with the execution of the Guards.  Then Herod settled a dispute with two neighboring areas–Tyre and Sidon.  In the process, he delivered a speech.  The speech was very good–Yet, when given the chance, Herod took credit as speaking as God.  Finally, the recognition he longed for. He was as great as God! Well, God struck him dead for his conceit and self-absorption. It was a nasty end of a nasty life.

God is not fooled, nor is he concerned about competing with men for dominance.  He is our creator and the master of the universe. Whenever we pit ourselves against God, whether out of anger or pride, we will ultimately lose.  God will stand as large and in charge as he has throughout history.  We can enjoy peace and security, if we are willing to humbly follow him.  He will lead, guide and bless us as we trust him.  He never promises our journey will be easy, but, rest assured it will be full, meaningful and purposeful. 

Should we, however, pit ourselves against God, the end will be far different.  Our arrogance robs us of peace, our independence leads to chaos, and our inability to trust and follow God leads to a misdirected life and a woeful end. It is always our choice whether to follow or run independent of God–the outcome of the choice, however, will be apparent and starkly different.  As the old Hymn says, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus–but to trust and obey!”

God Bless You

16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.

18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.

Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. 20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. After securing the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.

21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

24 But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.

When God Intervenes–Acts 12 Part 1

No way!! That is the common answer when something simply amazing happens.  That is the best reaction to the amazing miracle of Peter’s release from Herod’s prison.  Herod was always looking for ways to gain favor with the Jews that he ruled and the Romans that ruled him.  He found a common enemy—The Church.  He first killed John’s brother, James.  That was met with approval by both Rome and the Jews—So he arrested Peter.

Under heavy guard, Peter faced an imminent trial and execution.  Peter was then about to see God intervene.  God’s angel entered the jail, released Peter and led him out of the prison through the 16 guards charged with his security. Once free, Peter realized, for the first time, he was not truly dreaming. God did intervene to carry out his plan.

In our lives, we see God’s hand–day in and day out.  He rarely intervenes so dramatically, but, as with Peter, God assures that his plan will be completed.  As we walk with him, we continue to trust God with our future and the timing of our future. When we do, he will deliver us, provide for us and prepare us for our journey.

The most difficult part is initially trusting God. It is not nearly so difficult when life is easy, but when adding trials, traumas and temptation—our natural reaction is to take control and depend upon ourselves.  God has shown time and again that is not the best approach. Solomon said it best, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, acknowledge him in all your ways and he will make your path straight!” Proverbs 3:5-6

God Bless You

It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.

11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”

Missionary–Acts 11 Part 2

The greatest part of accepting that God holds the plan for our future and its timing is the discovery and recognition of the plan coming to fruition.  First, God brought the newly founded church to Jerusalem.  There he empowered it with His Spirit to start its growth.  Once its growth was established, he used various trials and tribulation to put a structure in the church and then spread the church throughout the region.

Now, as the church was growing out among other parts of the region, God used Antioch as the launching pad for European expansion—he prepared for a Mission.  God brought in a godly servant-hearted man named Barnabas (Son of encouragement).  Barnabas sought out that reactionary former Pharisee named Saul. He found Saul back in his home town.  He brought Saul back to Antioch and mentored him and prepared the two of them to begin the first “Christian” missionary journey–that was designed to primarily to collect food and funds for the new church to provide for a famine God was going to allow.

In these times, God is still in charge.  He is still executing his plan. While it seems we live in a time that is post-Christian and his impact diminished; truth is, he is preparing a new group to carry on his mission in these chaotic and difficult days.  We do not know who will be this generation’s Saul and Barnabas. But we do know that God has led for thousands of years, and his plan has worked every time.  We must continue to trust him, humbly follow and listen to his teaching.  We must also allow the trials and discipline he puts in our lives to prepare us for the days ahead.  It may be that we will be the next Paul and Barnabas.  It also may be that we are simply the structure God uses to prepare and send them out to change the world—either is fine, especially if we allow God to lead!

God Bless You

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29 The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

What a Gift; What a Promise–Acts 11 Part 1

It would have to take an act of God to convince the Jews to accept the gentiles as brothers in Christ.  Clearly, years of tradition and mutual disdain would hamper the free flow of ideas between God’s chosen people and the rest of the world that had persecuted, separated and sought to destroy them throughout time.

So God first showed Peter as the leader of the church and the other leaders that it was his plan to change the world; not just the Jews.  He used a beloved member of a hated community a God fearing Roman Centurion and his family and he gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit to seal them as part of his chosen. After hearing the story, the leaders had to agree that it was God that opened the message to the entire world.  As such, they embraced the idea and planned to spread the world to the ends of the earth.

The message is still for all who will believe.  There is no distinction in God’s eyes. He does not care about race, political affiliation, wealth or background.  He simply cares that his people will humble themselves and follow him and him only! If one is willing to do that, he will restore the broken relationship and forever accept you as one of his own.  What a gift, what a promise!

God Bless You

The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.

So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him

and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story:

“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’

This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

“Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying.

The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house.

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.

Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Let the Expansion Begin–Acts 10 Final

 God has reminded us from the beginning that he holds our future and the timing of our future.  All through Bible history, God implemented his plan in times and through people that the average person would never expect.  Peter was simply minding his own business, when God sent him to meet with Cornelius, the Centurion. Cornelius had spent a lifetime honoring God—even without any real means of knowing him personally.  Then, Christ appeared and everything changed.

God sent Peter, his lead apostle to start the expansion.  He prepared Cornelius and is family to hear the message and he blessed and anointed the meeting with his spirit—to leave no doubt about his personal stamp of approval. At the close, the family was baptized and the church expanded past the Jewish population and began its march across the world.

I am sure that Cornelius was ready to be saved much sooner than Peter appeared.  He had been seeking God for some time. God had a plan and had to put all the pieces together, however, prior to its implementation. Paul was ready to evangelize, Peter was established as a leader and Cornelius and his family longed to know God. Let the ministry begin.

We are reaping the benefit of God’s perfect timing.  We often seek God on our terms—as did Cornelius, only to find that he always operates in his time and through his plan.  It is often maddening for us to have to wait on him, and yet, when he executes his plan, there is never a doubt that his plan was right and his execution flawless.  God told us in Jeremiah—“I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you—plans to give you a hope and a future!” Jeremiah 29:11.

God Bless You

 

Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Do Not Call What I have Made Clean, Impure–Acts 10 Part 2

What happens when all the things you were sure of get turned upside-down.  Peter lived as a successful fisherman and enjoyed his simple life.  But, then, Jesus passed by and invited him on a Journey that was to change both Petr and the world.  Now that the Church was beginning to be established outside the walls of Jerusalem, Peter was growing into the Leader of the movement.

As he was praying one day at Lunch time, God used the moment to teach Peter, that things were changing.  He set in front of Peter every form of non-kosher food imaginable and told Peter to kill and eat.  Peter, thinking this is a trick told the Lord, NO!  Then God told Peter—“Do Not Call anything impure, that God has made clean!” Peter was about to begin the ministry to the Gentiles.

God always planned to seek and save all that were lost.  He had hoped to use the entire nation of Israel to lead others back to him—but, He did start with the original group to begin the process.  Peter,, the honest and devout leader a[was the best choice to begin the work.

We are to continue that work.  Like Peter, God is reminding us that we are not to judge folks, instead we are to draw them back to him so he can save and restore them as his own.  We do not get to judge the worthiness of others, but, instead we are to simply share God’s love and impact on our lives.

As we are doing that, God will make clean all that the world has left impure.  Meanwhile, we must simply trust him and allow him to work through us as he worked through Peter.

God Bless You

 

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.

19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”

21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”

22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.

Cornelius A living Offering–Acts 10 part 1

Imagine living a life that honors God so much that it is considered a sweet offering.  That was the roman centurion Cornelius.  Not only did he fear God, but he and his family poured their lives into the people of their community. Not only was his behavior unique for any culture—it was especially unique for the leader of an occupation army.  He stood out among his soldiers, and among the people in his community.

His behavior so honored God and his people, that God gave him a very unique position in history. Cornelius was to become the poster child for God’s implementation of calling the rest of the world to himself.  It was to be Cornelius that opened the ministry for the church too cross the globe. When he was approached by God he had no idea—he simply knew his life was going to change forever. Even after the visit he humbly obeyed God, without question or hesitation.

That is to be the attitude of the church as well. We, as a community, should live as an offering; a gift to God.  In addition, we need press forward in growing our relationship with him.  We all need to live as ambassadors for God in our communities. As we humbly follow and listen he will gladly use us to bless our neighbors and the Church.  We simply need to stand ready to go!

God Bless You

 

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”

When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.