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God's Word, Today's World
22 minutes | Sep 15, 2019
Episode 28 Suffering for the gospel and the sake of a few
Sometimes we’re called to defend the gospel. Sometimes we’re called to suffer for the gospel. In today’s episode though, we’ll see that it doesn’t always go in that order. Sometimes we suffer first. Last week in episode 27 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast, we had a look at how Paul and Barnabas were both being led on different journeys by God, but they got a detail wrong and thought they needed to do that journey together. As a result, they had an argument, one so bad that they parted ways in anger. Instead of taking a step back and praying together, seeking to work out what God was calling each to do individually, it appears they relied on their own understanding, and that didn’t go so well, because they were both right. Mostly. I encouraged us that when we find ourselves in dispute with another Christian who also believes they’re right, rather than trying to argue our point, take the time instead to pray, pray for all to have wisdom and that God would reveal His will to each of us. Pray for humility. This week, we’re looking at the incredible pain Paul and Silas suffered, all so God could bring the gospel to a hardened Roman jailer. Our passage today is Acts 16:16-40 (NIV): 16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. 19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. 35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” 38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. 40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left. So Paul and Silas, along with Luke and Timothy, are still in Philippi, where they met with Lydia and stayed at her house. While they’re there, a slave girl possessed by a demon is following them around yelling at them that, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” Now, from first glance it might seem like cool! Why not let her keep doing that, free publicity, right? But the thing is, she was demon possessed, and that demon, it knew exactly who God was, and they don’t do anything out of an effort to have people saved. If going around yelling what it was yelling was helping the gospel, then it’d have stopped. So you can be assured that what this girl was doing, was not helping the Gospel. So finally Paul turns to her and commands the demon to leave her. And it does. But then everything goes bad. The girl’s masters are furious, their source of income has gone. So they grab Paul and Silas and drag them to the authorities and start making things up about Paul and Silas. Claiming they’re throwing the city into an uproar, saying nothing about what actually happened. And the crowd join the attack against Paul and Silas so the magistrates ordered them stripped and beaten without a trial. Something that was illegal to be done to Roman citizens, which Paul and Silas both were. And this is where the story gets really interesting to me. There’s two things I want to look at today. Suffering for the Gospel Defending the Gospel I want to look at these two things because they happen in the reverse order that we might think they should happen. Because first Paul and Silas suffered for the gospel, and then they defended it. So let’s start with 1. Suffering for the Gospel As Paul and Silas are before the magistrate, some commentaries say that they may have tried to say they were Roman citizens here, but because of the crowd and the chaos, they weren’t heard. But I’m a little sceptical about that. See, they had Roman guards—who knew the law and the personal danger of beating a Roman citizen without trial—stripping Paul and Silas of their clothes. That meant they were right up in the face of these two men. I think screaming at someone in your face that you were a Roman citizen would have been heard by at least one of them who might pause long enough to realise that, “Hey, if we flog these men, we might be in for some serious punishment ourselves…” And later, when they’re dragged away to jail and things have calmed down, still Luke makes no mention of them saying anything about their citizenship. Not to the guards dragging them, not to the jailer. Surely by now they would have had a chance to if they were still conscious. But as I read it, I see only silence from them on this point. And I don’t think that was an accident. I believe they were silent about their citizenship, and for good reason. I believe that the Holy Spirit prompted them to remain quiet about it for now. Why? Because their being flogged and thrown in jail led directly to the jailer and his family all hearing the gospel and putting their faith in Jesus. If Paul and Silas had spoken up about their citizenship and they were heard, the flogging would have been called off. They’d never have gone to jail. They’d never have had chance to share the gospel with the jailer. Paul and Silas suffered immensely, all so one family could have salvation. What incredible faith they would have needed to listen to the Holy Spirit when the Holy Spirit prompted them to remain silent about their citizenship. But… even if they had spoken up, and no one had heard them, they still suffered gladly for the sake of the gospel, and in jail, instead of complaining, moaning, about the hardship and the injustice… they were singing praises. They were worshiping God. Even if they had tried to defend themselves but were ignored, they still honoured God despite the injustice. And soon, God made it clear to them why they had suffered that day. They suffered a physical beating, something which at worst could kill them, so they could then be in a place to witness to a jailer and his family, and in the end, see their eternal souls be saved. Paul and Silas’s physical wellbeing was at stake in this story. But the jailer and his family? Their souls were at stake, they were sadly heading to hell until that night. And that jailer came so close to being in hell, because he was about to commit suicide because he knew the punishment if his prisoners escaped, he would be put to death—probably beaten and humiliated first. He sought to avoid that part of his punishment and just end his life then and there. But Paul and Silas yelled out, stilling his hand. “We’re all still here!” they told him. Not one of the prisoners had fled. And that in itself is a miracle. A bunch of actual criminals had stayed in their cells, despite the doors being opened and the shackles falling off. The jailer knew full well that this was impossible. There’s no way that they would have stayed under normal circumstances. But they had! And that amongst everything else amazed the jailer, who rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. And the first words out of his mouth? “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they told him. And when they shared the gospel also with his household, they too believed and all were baptised. And so because of the pain Paul and Silas went through, and their desire to honour God, one day, we’ll get to meet that jailer and his family in paradise! That I just think is so amazing. Now that the jailer and his family are saved, now Paul and Silas defend the gospel. 2. Defending the Gospel The following day, when the officers came to release Paul and Silas, Paul tells them, “We’re Roman citizens and yesterday, they beat up publicly without a trial. This isn’t going away without them coming and settling this matter.” The question here though is why did Paul bother defending themselves now? I mean, they weren’t going to be unflogged, and the jailer had been saved, so you could say just being humble and walking away would have been the right thing to do. Why would Paul make a fuss and demand the magistrates themselves come and escort them out of the prison? Seems perhaps a bit petty. I mean, I think all of us would want that kind of vindication, of being proven right, but I mean really, what is the point of doing it? Did Paul have a greater goal than just personal satisfaction here? Yes. He did. See, Paul wasn’t just motivated by defending himself here, his real motivation was to defend the Gospel. To show the people in Philippi that the Gospel is above the law, it’s not some shameful thing that gets you flogged and thrown in jail here. See, by making a public fuss about this, he received a formal apology from the magistrates, who realised how much hot water they were in right now. In doing this, the Gospel was validated. Paul and Silas didn’t slink out of the city in silence. They didn’t just get flogged and disappear after that, leaving people to assume they were in the wrong and maybe this whole “Christianity” thing was a bit shady. No, they received a public apology for what happened, and the gospel received a mark of authenticity. It wasn’t just some teaching from a random person who got flogged and thrown in prison. It was taught by men who unjustly suffered for what they taught, and were publicly apologised to… and more importantly, they showed grace after that. Paul and Silas could have continued to force the matter and gotten the magistrates in major trouble with Rome for not checking Paul and Silas’s citizen status before ordering them to be flogged without trial. But Paul and Silas didn’t do that. They actually did what the magistrates requested, further solidifying that they were upright, honourable people who followed the laws of the land, exactly as Paul teaches us to do in Romans 13. Through this, Paul proved his innocence, and more importantly, the innocence of the Gospel, but it didn’t end there, because then Paul and Silas showed grace and forgiveness. They understood that the magistrates were in charge of keeping the peace, and that they acted out of fear and trying to calm an out of control crowd. If Paul and Silas had kept silent here, the magistrates would never have known they broke the law and did something seriously wrong. But because Paul spoke up, he was then able to show them grace by not pressing charges, another aspect of the Gospel. Grace. And what an incredible picture of humility that would have been to the magistrates. All the way to the jail they would have been panicking over the situation and trying to work out how they could make Paul and Silas happy. But Paul and Silas don’t raise a fuss, they are escorted out, and then after a last visit to Lydia and the believers, they depart from the city. Their actions defended the Gospel, proved its legitimacy and that they’d done nothing wrong, indeed, they were treated poorly. But despite the horrible punishment they received and the fact that they COULD have taken it to Caesar, they didn’t. They showed grace to these magistrates and actually helped them keep the peace by leaving the city. Conclusion So to sum up: 1. Sometimes the reason we face trials and suffering is so we can be in a place to help others. If Paul and Silas hadn’t been flogged, they’d never have been able to talk to that jailer. So when we face tough situations in life, be mindful of the opportunities that can also come with those situations. 2. Sometimes it’s okay to show people that we did the right thing and were treated unjustly. But not so we can rub it in their faces and make ourselves feel better, but so that we can show that injustice happened. And that then can be an opportunity to be gracious, not for our sake, but for the sake of the Gospel. Paul and Silas cared more about the Gospel than they did about their own safety. Their actions showed they did desire for the Gospel to be presented well and show respect for authority, but before they did that, they allowed themselves to suffer and were given the opportunity to share the Gospel with the jailer and his family, all of whom put their faith in Christ. Neither of these situations are about getting what we want, they’re about pointing people to the gospel, to Jesus Christ. So my challenge this week is that we embrace trials in our lives as a chance to share the gospel with others through our actions and our words. In all situations to be gracious, kind, and showing love. In all situations to be honouring God, even in the darkest, hardest moments. We never know who is watching, we never know when our actions and words will impact those around us. So let’s ensure that we’re always being a good witness, not just when life is easy, but also when life is hard, impossibly hard. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.The post Episode 28 Suffering for the gospel and the sake of a few first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
19 minutes | Sep 8, 2019
Episode 27 When Christians disagree but are both right
Sometimes we disagree with people. Sometimes it’s because they’re wrong, sometimes it’s because we’re wrong. But sometimes… we’re both RIGHT. In today’s episode, Paul and Barnabas ran into this issue. We’ll see what we can learn from how they handled it. Last week in episode 26 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast, we looked at how a rift was forming in the early church between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The Jewish believers wanted the Gentiles to follow a long list of rules and abide by their culture and upbringing. The Gentile believers, however, had no such restraints, they had a great deal of freedom in how they lived because they didn’t have the same set of laws and regulations that the Jewish believers had. And so there was tension, both were trying to force their ideals on the other. But James, one of Jesus’s younger brothers, an elder in the Jerusalem church, steps up and says, “Hey, fellow Jews, let’s not make life any harder for our Gentile brothers and sisters. But, to our Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ, here are just a few things you can do to really help bring peace between our different cultures.” What we can takeaway from James’ words is that yes, we do have a great deal of freedom as Christians, but our freedom to live certain ways comes second to loving our brothers and sisters in Christ as Jesus loves us. And Jesus loved us to the point that he left heaven, came to earth, was tortured and eventually killed. For us. He died to pay the price for our mistakes and sins. Then God rose him on the third day, and Jesus defeated death. Because of that, we have the free gift of salvation. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God, we can have salvation. That’s how far Jesus went for everyone who puts their faith in him. But how far do we go to show those around us love? Are we willing to give up things we enjoy in life because it makes our brothers and sisters in Christ uncomfortable? Or tempts them to do something they believe is a sin? Because we should be willing to sacrifice our freedoms for the sake of others, Jesus certainly did for us. The apostles certainly did for us, they died so we could have the gospel. What are you willing to do to love those around you? What are you willing to give up to love those around you? This week, we’re continuing to look at how to handle tension between believers. Our passage today is Acts 15:38-16:15 (NIV): 36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. Timothy Joins Paul and Silas 1 Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. 2 The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3 Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. Paul’s Vision of the Man of Macedonia 6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Lydia’s Conversion in Philippi 11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. 13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. So after last week’s look at peace between believers, we pick back up at the end of chapter 15 with Paul and Barnabas having such a sharp dispute that they parted company. Now, Paul was a man who understood second chances, God had given him a very impressive second chance, so I assume there was a really good reason that Paul was wary taking Mark with them. He had some reason to believe that Mark would make their journey harder, especially given that the plan was to return to cities that had tried to kill them. But Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, he always saw the good in people. He saw the good in Paul and gave Paul a chance, and now he sees the good in Mark, despite whatever it is that Mark has done, and is determined to give him the same chance he gave Paul. But what’s so interesting is that God had a purpose here. I believe that God had put a mission on each of their hearts, but because of their great friendship and desire to continue working together, they were trying to force what they wanted into God’s plan, but I think God’s plan all along was that they parted ways, their time working together had come to an end and they each had someone else to focus on, to mentor. What I believe happened here is that God had put mentoring Mark on Barnabas’ heart. Barnabas deeply desired to see Mark become a man that even Paul would be proud to call a companion and great support. But God had put on Paul’s heart the desire to go back into the mission field, to go into the tough, dangerous places and minister to those in need of the gospel. A task which Paul didn’t believe Mark would be capable of. Neither were necessarily wrong, they were just trying to force their will on God, and when they disagreed, instead of working for peace, they focused on their own opinions instead of saying, “You know what? God is telling me to go here, and maybe it’s time for us to part so you can take Mark and disciple him and I can take someone else and disciple them while I revisit the churches we planted.” The reason I believe they were both right—Barnabas in wanting to disciple Mark, and Paul in wanting to go back and revisit the churches they’d established earlier—is this: Both their journeys were blessed. It’s easy to see that Paul was right in his desire to head back into the mission field, because through the passage we read, we see how God guided his journey, turning him aside from his original plans but taking him where the Holy Spirit was already working in peoples hearts. Paul and Silas, and later Timothy and Luke, took the gospel to all new people, and many put their faith in Jesus. The gospel travelled far and wide because of that journey and because they were willing to follow where God was leading, because they were willing to give up on original plans when they realised that God had something different, something better in mind. But that initial desire to head out again was a desire God put on Paul’s heart. And it shows, because the journey was incredibly fruitful. There is so much I could dig into with the start of chapter 16, with the three small stories, I could probably do an entire sermon on each of them, but the overarching theme that I see today is what we talked about, that the gospel spread, and not by plans made by men, but by God’s guidance. Time and again Paul and his companies tried to go somewhere and were redirected. Which is a really good mini-point that I want to make: We can make all the plans in the world, but we need to trust that we won’t always get it right, and be ready to make an abrupt change of direction when God reveals where He actually wants us to go. But back to Paul and Barnabas’s difference of opinion. For Paul, it’s easy to see that his journey was blessed by God. Great good came from it. However, the fruit of Barnabas’s choice to take Mark and disciple him isn’t so immediately obvious, because Barnabas is never mentioned again in the book of Acts. That being said, we find in other books of the Bible that the time and effort Barnabas put in in discipling Mark was well worth while because years later, Paul himself asks Timothy to fetch Mark, because Mark is very helpful to him in his ministry. 2 Timothy 4:11 And this is not the only time Paul references Mark in a positive light. In Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24, Paul calls Mark a brother and fellow worker. Evidently Barnabas’s good influence rubbed off on Mark, because he became a hard working and stalwart companion over the years it seems. So both Paul and Barnabas had a task from God. Paul was to again take the gospel out. But Barnabas, Barnabas had Mark as a mission. He was to invest in that man’s life. And so Paul and Barnabas both did what they were supposed to, and God blessed both journeys. What they didn’t do so well at, though, was recognising that God had called them to different paths. Paul naturally wanted to work with Barnabas again, because they’d known each other for many, many years, and worked well together. Barnabas naturally wanted to give Mark another chance, because he saw the good in the man and wanted to perhaps prove to Paul that Mark had changed. This is such a great lesson for us, because I don’t know about you, but I’ve faced a number of situations in my life where I’ve been told by other Christians that what I’m doing can’t be right because that’s not what God told them to do. And I know I’ve been critical of other Christians’ ministries because I’m like, “God never called me to do something like that.” What we can learn is this: God doesn’t call you to do my task. And he doesn’t call me to do your task. And sometimes, He may call two people who work together a lot, to part ways and work on different ministries, to go different places in life. In those times, when we’re certain of what God is calling us to do, but there’s tension with other people, we need to step back. Don’t keep forcing it and arguing like Paul and Barnabas did. They forced the issue until they were so angry that they split ways on poor terms. Later it appears they worked things out, and certainly after Mark turned out so well. But initially? There was not peace between them. And it’s tough to reconcile that kind of situation, because neither could say, “Maybe I’m wrong and you’re right.” Both were so experienced in walking the path God laid out for them, both had such a close relationship with the Holy Spirit, that I don’t doubt that they were 100% certain of what God was saying. But they had one detail wrong. They thought they needed to continue working together. Because of that detail, they clashed. Badly. So if we face situations like that, we should take a step back, and rather than forcing the issue, we should be praying. Praying with the person we’re at tension with, because we can both be asking for humility and for wisdom. If we’re seeking to honour God, He will guide us on His path, just like He did Paul and Barnabas. The fact that they fought was not God’s fault, it was their own. Conclusion And that’s what I want to challenge us with this week: When faced with a difference of opinion with fellow believers, instead of trying to argue it out, if tension is rising instead stop and pray. If you need to take time away from that person to clear your head and pray, do so. But this is important: don’t just be praying, “God, show them that they’re wrong and I’m right.” Because the thing is, you might both be right! So we need to respect that, and instead of trying to convince people in disagreement with us over God’s guidance that they’re wrong, be working to find out why God is leading us differently, and work to fulfil that purpose and have peace between us and whoever we’re in disagreement with. Of course, that is really tricky if you’re married to that person, but that’s even more reason to really be taking the time to pray and converse, to not turn it into a fight but be lovingly working together to discover God’s will and work out how both parties can follow Him how He calls them. As always, pray. I keep coming back to that for the solution when we don’t know what to do, or things are going wrong—and when things are going right. But that’s because it honestly is the best thing we can do most of the time. Again, time with God is never wasted time. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.The post Episode 27 When Christians disagree but are both right first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
26 minutes | Sep 1, 2019
Episode 26 How far can we go to love others?
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also love one another.” – Jesus Christ, the Son of God. John 13:34 (WEB) Last week in episode 25 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast, we took a look at what Paul and Barnabas went through to share the gospel of Jesus with people. Several times Jews tried to kill them, and once, they managed to capture Paul and stoned him to the point they thought he was dead. But as the disciples stand around looking at the body of Paul, pelted and bruised, he stands up, and goes back into the city. Those two men very clearly showed by their actions that they weren’t seeking the approval of people, if they were, they wouldn’t have faced so much danger from the people they were seeking to help. No, they sought only God’s approval. So I challenged us, whose approval are we seeking? The approval of our friends, our coworkers, fellow students, family? Or are we seeking the approval of God? If we seek the approval of people, we seek the approval of those who at a moments notice will turn on us. If our happiness relies on others liking us, we will never truly be happy, because we’ll never get everyone to like us, especially if we also strive to be Christlike. But God is different. If we seek God, He will never turn us away. Jesus will never forsake those who seek him. And that should bring us an amazing sense of peace and joy. Today we’re looking at the importance of striving for peace between believers. Let’s pray and we’ll get started. Our passage today is Acts 15:1-35 (ESV): 1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” 6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” 12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, 16 “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, 17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’ 19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers 22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” 30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33 And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. So the church in Antioch is a growing, thriving church gentiles and jews focused on missions, on spreading the good news of the free gift of salvation to all the world, as Jesus commanded. And yet, here in chapter 15 we see a group of Christians come down from Judea, and start telling these uncircumcised Christians that unless they get circumcised, they’re not saved. This is terrible! I can only imagine how much this would have hurt and freaked out some believers, especially those with newer faith. To be sure in your salvation to suddenly be told, “You’re not really saved. God doesn’t really accept you. He won’t until you follow these rules.” Understandably, this really, really upset Paul and Barnabas, and they strongly opposed that view as a view counter to the gospel of salvation. So the church appointed them and some other believers to go up to Jerusalem and see the apostles and elders about the issue. A big debate happened in Jerusalem, so similar to the one that happened years previously when Peter returned from Cornelius’s house and circumcised Jewish Christians accosted him in Jerusalem and accused him of eating with unclean people. At the end of Acts 11, it looked like those people from the circumcision group had finally accepted that yeah, God doesn’t require circumcision. We’re saved by grace, not by actions and rules. And yet, years later, some of the Jewish Christians are bringing up the same issue, again. Peter was back to fighting this issue. An issue which should have been laid to rest years ago! What I find so interesting with this passage though, is how, even though James, Peter, Paul, and Barnabas all clearly oppose the idea that Gentile believers needed to be circumcised, James worked for peace between the two groups. There was clearly opposition. There was clearly disagreement, even though Peter explained again how God had chosen to save the Gentiles, not them. Then James, the leader of the Jerusalem church and the brother of Jesus, speaks up, backing Simon up. And he uses Peter’s Jewish name here, as if to say, “He’s one of you!” James goes on to say that God had given word through the prophets long ago that the Gentiles would be saved, that they would seek God and be saved through grace. And then verse 19-21, we see James working for peace between two very different opinions. Even though the idea of circumcision is clearly unbiblical and not what Jesus taught, James works for peace within the church. He says Acts 15:19-21 (ESV): 19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” Don’t make it difficult for them by demanded circumcision. But, we will ask them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. These things were all legal and acceptable in many Gentile societies. They weren’t breaking any laws to do any of those things. And the only one which is a direct sin in the new testament, and in the Ten Commandments, is sexual immorality. The other three were things the Jews followed from when God gave the law for the Israelite nation to Moses. They were things that greatly disgusted and disturbed Jewish Christians, people who had grown up being taught from birth not to touch food offered to idols, or to eat meat with blood in it. But not one of those things is a salvation issue, and James knew that. Yet he still asked the Gentiles to abstain from them. Why? Peace between believers is more important than freedom What I mean by that, is that while yes, we do have a great deal of freedom as believers, so long as we’re love the Lord our God with everything we are, respect those in authority—follow the laws of the land we live in—and love others, there aren’t actually a ton of “rules” we’re required to follow. And, in fact, there is only one real “rule” for salvation, and that is putting our faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God who came to earth to die for our sins and was raised on the third day by God, defeating death and giving us the free gift of salvation. We need to acknowledge who Jesus is, that he is the only way to God, and that once we put our faith in him, we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, the third part of the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We really have so much freedom as Christians. But, with great freedom comes great responsibility! To butcher an overused quote. See, we do have freedom to choose what movies we watch, what music we listen to, what food we eat, what we drink, what we wear, we have freedom to choose so long as we’re loving God with everything we are, and we’re loving our neighbours as ourselves. Sometimes what we watch doesn’t honour God. Sometimes what we drink tempts others to do likewise and leads them to sin. Sometimes what we wear causes others to struggle with sin. And it’s so easy to say, “Well other people just need to have better self-control! They shouldn’t let themselves be affected by what I do!” But there’s so much wrong with that attitude. Jesus didn’t say, “Love your neighbour as yourself, so long as you don’t have to sacrifice anything. Only love them when it’s convenient to you.” No, he said to the disciples in John 13:34 (WEB): “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also love one another.” What did Jesus do? Did he love us until it required sacrifice and then he was like, “Whoa, no way. I ain’t giving up my comfort for them!” No. If that was the case, he’d never even have come to earth! But he not only came to earth, he died. He gave up everything for us. And I’m not saying we have to stop doing everything that might possibly cause someone to stumble. I’m not saying we can only watch “Christian” movies, we can only eat crackers and drink water, and we have to walk around in fashion-less clothes. Sacks, preferably. No, that’s not what I mean. What I’m getting at is what’s in our heart when we choose what to watch, drink, wear, etc? Is it a conscious desire to honour God? Or is it just something we want to do because we enjoy it? Is it a conscious desire to love those around us and build them up? Or do we not care about those around us, so long as we get to do what we want? And that’s what James addressed in Acts 15. He addressed the freedom that the Gentiles had, and proposed a way they could better love the Jewish believers who worshiped with them. See, the Jewish believers grew up in a culture with very strict rules and traditions. To them, the things that the Gentile believers did were abhorrent. Some Gentile practices strained relationships with the Jewish believers because it was that disgusting to them. Some things they did made the Jewish believers uncomfortable, and at times, they’d have been unwilling to spend time with their brothers and sisters in Christ because they were sickened. Today, you might put it like this: If you have a friend you know disagrees with drinking and you wanted to show them love and respect, would you purposefully drink around them? If you knew it made them uncomfortable, would it be loving to make them be around you while you drank? To put them in a position where they either feel uncomfortable being around alcohol, or they feel rude for excusing themselves? That wouldn’t be showing love to that person. Likewise if you worked in a slaughter house, or as a butcher and you have friends who are vegetarian or vegan, if you respected them and loved them, you wouldn’t talk about your work around them because you know that’d make many of them uncomfortable, and you certainly wouldn’t invite them to an open day at your job. My point is that yes, we have freedom in Christ to drink—though not get drunk—we have freedom in Christ to eat meat, we have freedom to wear what we want… But we also have a higher calling. We are called to love other believers as Christ loves us. Sometimes in order to love our brothers and sisters in Christ as Jesus loves us means that we have to give up some of our freedoms. It means being sensitive to their values, to their beliefs, to their struggles. Having freedom in Christ doesn’t mean we can flaunt our freedom, or just expect others to deal with it. They should just be stronger! Rather, we should be asking ourselves, “How far can I go to love God? How far can I go to love my brothers and sisters in Christ?” Asking those questions changes everything. However, this issue has two sides. Because if we’re on the other side and believe that something that’s not in the ten commandments is a sin, we shouldn’t be going out and seeking Christians who drink and shaming them. We shouldn’t go out seeking people who wear clothes we don’t think they should and then shaming them. And even if it is crystal clear in the Bible, shaming is not the answer. If it is against God’s commands, we should lovingly rebuke, bring it up carefully—with much prayer before hand—and open a discussion about it based upon God’s word. Like all things, it’s a balance. One we need to be mindful of, regardless of what side we fall on with a given issue. And most of us will actually be on both sides. For some things we’ll embrace freedom. For other issues, we’ll be strict about, perhaps we believe the Bible advises against those things. Or perhaps our culture and upbringing has taught us those things are wrong, rude or inappropriate. Or perhaps a struggle with sin means certain things are more of a temptation. For example, when I watch movies, I’m very strict about certain content because I struggled so long in my past with pornography. By the grace of God I haven’t slipped back into the grip of pornography in years, but I also do not want to flirt with temptation. For me it’s not worth the risk just so I can “enjoy” a two hour movie. However, I personally have no issue with watching a graphic war movie with people blowing up. Brittany is very different, she doesn’t face the temptation to sin if she sees someone without a shirt on. But watching graphic violence leaves her sick and disturbed, and monster movies will give her nightmares. So even though we’re completely opposite there, we won’t ask the other to watch a movie that would disturb them, or might lead to temptation. Both sides need to be sensitive to the beliefs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Freedom doesn’t mean make others do the same as us, or even agree with us on what we’re free to do. Rather, to truly love others as Christ loves us, means we actively defend those who don’t have the same freedoms as us. When watching movies with friends and some want to watch something that has content I’m uncomfortable, it really makes me feel loved when someone else steps in and says, “You know what, let’s not watch that. There’s a sex scene.” I’m happy to say that myself, and I do, but it’s really, really nice to have someone willing to defend you. Especially when you’ve already said no and others are just trying to say, “Aww come on! Don’t be a party pooper! It’ll be fine. You’ll be fine. It’s not that bad.” How many times have you said no to something in your life only to have the group try convince you otherwise? If you’ve been there, you know how much it sucks to feel like the only person who can’t, to be you against everyone else. Just imagine how great it’d feel to have someone back you up on your convictions, especially if you knew they were actually okay with things, they just wanted you to feel comfortable. How far will we go to love others? Acts 15 is a demonstration of one group of believers trying to force their restrictions on everyone else, it’s a demonstration of their attempt to add to the gospel, to say that you need to do more to be saved than what Jesus said you need to do. Yet despite their sin, despite corrupting the gospel, James shows us what it means to love others as Christ loves us. James showed us how to put aside our freedom in order to love those around us. He told the Pharisaical Jews, “No, circumcision and being under the law was not what Jesus said, and why would you even want to make someone else deal with something we can’t even do!?” But, he understood what Jesus meant by loving sacrificially, and he knew the discomfort that some Gentile freedoms were causing Jewish believers, so the apostles and elders in Jerusalem sent them a message apologising for the hurt caused by those who went down to them and spread the heresy. But instructing them that hey, here are three things that aren’t sins that you can do to really help and show love to the Jews amongst you. Don’t eat meat from strangled animals, stay away from blood, and don’t eat food sacrificed to idols. My challenge this week is that we adopt James’s desire to show love even if it costs us. How far can we go to love our family in Christ? How far can we go to make people who believe differently to us feel comfortable? Instead of thinking first of our own desires, and what we want to do, and what makes us happy, let’s think about others. Let’s be asking ourselves if our freedom is making others uncomfortable, or worse, leading them to temptation. How far can we go to love others? Our example is Christ. How far did Jesus go to love you? Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct. Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.The post Episode 26 How far can we go to love others? first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
28 minutes | Aug 25, 2019
Episode 25 Who are you trying to keep happy?
It feels great to have people like us. But what about when they stop liking us? It hurts, right? Well, the good news is there is one whom we can please who will never turn on us. Jesus. Last week in episode 24 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast, we looked at a dangerous sin, perhaps one of the most dangerous sins. Pride. When pride gets into our life, it tells us that we’re good enough, we don’t need to change, we don’t need to work on getting rid of sin. We can just keep living as we are, God won’t mind. It leads us to believe we’re better than others. But God hates pride, He actively opposes it. Instead, God loves humility, and unless we serve Him with humility, we can be doing all the right things—going to church, giving to the poor, reading our Bibles—and still disgust God. Isaiah 66. So instead, we should seek to be humble, to approach God’s word with fear and trembling and a desire to change our lives to suit His word, not change it to suit our lives. This week we’re looking at the desire many of us have to be liked by others. Our passage today is Acts 14 (NIV): 1 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. 4 The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5 There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6 But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7 where they continued to preach the gospel. In Lystra and Derbe 8 In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. 11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them. 19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. The Return to Antioch in Syria 21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, 25 and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples. So last week we saw Paul and Barnabas run out of Pisidia Antioch, this week we see them in Iconium. As was their practice, they went first to the Jews at the synagogue and spoke to them. Amazingly, a great number of Jews and Greeks believed! Once again it’s good news for them as they first arrive. But then, like in Antioch, the Jews who refused to believe started stirring up trouble and poisoning people against Paul and Barnabas. To the point that a plot was hatched to stone them. At that, Paul and Barnabas fled, they left the region and went to Lystra and Derbe. The people there are vastly different, instead of a cultured civilised city, this is a rougher place. When Paul and Barnabas speak there, some listen, one, a man who was lame, listened and believed. When Paul noticed him, he told the man to stand, and up he jumped! But this incredible miracle had the opposite effect that was intended. It was intended to point people to God’s power, so they’d give Him glory and put their faith in Jesus. Instead… they ran around shouting that Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes! Then the priest of Zeus grabbed some bulls and brought them to the city gates to sacrifice to Barnabas and Paul! Poor Paul and Barnabas, at first they couldn’t understand what was happening, they each spoke a few languages, but the native Lycaonian language was probably not on that list. Perhaps at first they think the crowd is excited for Jesus. But finally they work out that it’s not God they’re trying to sacrifice to. It’s Paul and Barnabas. At this they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, frantically trying to convince the people that it’s not them they should honour, it’s God! Finally they convinced the crowd not to sacrifice to them. But the situation gets worse. Jews from Antioch and Iconium had followed Paul and Barnabas. And they won the crowd over. And so the crowd, who had just been worshiping Paul, stoned him. Paul certainly suffered as Jesus had. When Jesus headed to Jerusalem at the passover, the people had flocked to the streets, lining it with palm branches as Jesus had entered, riding on the colt of a donkey. Days later, those same people screamed for his blood. Crowds are scary, man! What stands out here is just how dangerous it is to desire to win the affections of a crowd, or to seek to win the approval of humans. We can do so, we can work on having crowds looking up to us and singing our praises. But it takes nothing at all for those same people who once loved us to be screaming for our blood. When we seek the praise of people, we put our trust in people who at a moments notice will turn on us. Yet, so many of us want to be liked by others. We want to be popular at school, at work, amongst our friends, in our community. We so often desire the approval of others. But the problem with seeking to be liked by others is that when people don’t like us, it destroys us. We’re devastated to find out people dislike us, mock us, spread rumours about us, gossip about us. What happens when we seek to be liked by others is that we put our happiness in the hands of fickle people. People who in a moments notice will turn on us, people who constantly change their minds. One moment they think this, the next that. And you might say, “But all my friends are different. Everyone really respects me.” I’ll ask you this: how many people have you gone from liking in your life to disliking in your life? How many people have we pretended to like to be nice, but deep down we don’t really want to have anything to do with them? And eventually we lose patience with them and try to avoid them. We gossip about them. We laugh at them behind their backs. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve done that to people in my life. To those people, it once looked like I liked them, but then suddenly something changed, and they probably have no idea what. If we do that to people, you can be sure people do that to us. There are probably people in your life who tolerate you, but don’t really like you. One day their patience will run out and you’ll be left wondering what on earth changed, perhaps even wondering what you did wrong. People are fickle. We’re fickle. And so when our happiness relies on how much the people around us like us, we will in the end be unhappy, miserable people. And what’s worse, to be liked by lots of people often requires us to compromise on our values as followers of Jesus. The world hates Jesus. It will hate those who follow in his footsteps. If we want to be liked by people, we will have to stop being Christlike in everything we do. At times some of the people whose approval we seek will want us to lie for them, to cheat for them, to sin for them. If we don’t do what they want, they’ll stop liking us. Seeking the approval of people will always end badly for us. However, there is someone else whose approval we can seek, someone who will never let us down, who will never decide to stop liking us. God. If we seek God’s approval, we will never have to worry about being rejected. John 6:37-40 (WEB), Jesus speaking: 37 All those whom the Father gives me will come to me. He who comes to me I will in no way throw out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 This is the will of my Father who sent me, that of all he has given to me I should lose nothing, but should raise him up at the last day. 40 This is the will of the one who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” All those whom the father gives Jesus will go to him, and whoever goes to him, he will never drive away. If you’re seeking God, if you’re seeking Jesus, it means God has called you, He’s given you to Jesus. Doesn’t matter who you are, your race, gender, age, or even your sin. If you make the choice to follow Jesus, he will never drive you away. How awesome is that promise? We can reject God, but He will never drive us away. He will never be like the fickle person who one minute sings our praises, the next hates us. Look at what Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:11-13 (WEB): 11 This saying is trustworthy: “For if we died with him, we will also live with him. 12 If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we deny him, he also will deny us. 13 If we are faithless, he remains faithful; for he can’t deny himself.” If we deny Him, He will deny us, but if we’re faithless—if we make mistakes, sin? He will remain faithful. When we seek God’s approval, we seek the approval of an unchangeable God. Even when we sin, when we make mistakes, even massive mistakes, He still loves us. Read through the Bible and look at any of the people Hebrews 11 calls people of great faith, and you’ll see a list of people who sinned and made countless mistakes. People whom God loved dearly. People like us. Not mystical people with some superpower for being pure and righteous. Sinful, fallen people who struggled with pride, lust, sexual immorality, selfishness, envy, hatred, even murder. But the one thing that they all had in common? They sought God’s approval. And God approved. When they sinned, they repented and turned back to God, asking for forgiveness. And He forgave. There was no, “That’s it! You’ve made one too many mistakes, it’s over now. Get out of my sight!” Which is good, because if there was a limit to how many times we could sin in life and still be forgiven, I’d have passed that number years ago. Some people might hear that God constantly forgives and say, “Well, I can just do whatever I want and just ask God for forgiveness after, right? He’ll always forgive me so why should I seek to do what God wants? Better to ask forgiveness than permission, after all.” But that’s so backward! If we want God’s approval, why purposefully disobey Him? If we want the approval of people in our life, do we purposefully ignore what they want and do the exact opposite? No! Generally we try do what they want, and if it’s something we know they won’t like, we hide it from them! We hide it from them so we can pretend to do what they want so they like us. The thing is, though, we can’t do that with God. We can’t pretend to follow Him but disobey him in secret because He sees everything. There is nothing hidden from Him. Not a single secret buried deep in our hearts is hidden from him. And so if we want God’s approval, we should be seeking to make sure even our thoughts honour Him. But what’s the point of seeking God’s approval? When we seek the approval of those around us, they say nice things about us, they do things for us, they’re nice to us. We feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside when we know someone likes us and is happy with us. It can be hard to seek God’s approval though, because so often the exact opposite happens. We get disliked by people because they don’t like us standing up for our convictions. We get angry looks because they’re sick of us talking about the incredible things Jesus did. We get excluded from events because we’re too “stuffy” and no fun to be around. People feel guilty because our standards are different—even if we never once condemned them for their actions. I’ve had so many drunk people at parties who know I’m a Christian keep apologising for being drunk and a horrible person, even though I’m standing there with a drink and never once said a word about them. Our very presence can leave people feeling guilty, not because of anything we’ve done, but because they already feel guilty and they project their own feelings of guilt onto us, believing that we’re judging them because deep down they’re judging themselves. And the more Christlike we seek to be, even when we show incredible grace and forgiveness towards others, that feeling of guilt in others amplifies. So just by being in the room, some people are resenting us, hating us, because of what we stand for. Not because of anything we’ve done, but because of their own heart. Believe me, that does not leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. It’s easy to want to cave to the pressure and try fit in. Certainly some things we do “for Jesus” can leave us with that familiar feeling of having done the right thing. Giving to others, taking care of the needs of others, being generous. Those things leave us all warm inside. But are we doing them for our own sake? Or are we doing them for God’s sake? Are we doing them to receive the accolades of men… or the praise of God? So often those feelings of warm and fuzzy come when we know others see us doing good. And God knows that! He knows our pride can turn something good and loving into a way to build ourselves up! We can call our actions Christlike, but our reasons for doing them are so others will praise us, like us! Approve of us! So to that, Jesus said in Matthew 6:1-4 (WEB): 1 “Be careful that you don’t do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do merciful deeds, don’t sound a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may get glory from men. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you do merciful deeds, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand does, 4 so that your merciful deeds may be in secret, then your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Man, even when we’re doing good and serving God we’re not supposed to do it for the praise of others! Well, we can. But… we won’t receive a reward in heaven for it, because we’ll already have received our reward here. Rather, if we’re seeking God’s approval, then when we give, we should do so as much in secrecy as possible! Do everything we can to hide from others what we’re doing. And so, I ask again, what’s the point of seeking God’s approval? We don’t get anything on earth out of it. The clue is in Matthew 6. Jesus implies that those who do good for others out of a desire to honour God, have a reward in heaven. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I hear Jesus say reward, I’m certain whatever it is, it’s going to be something pretty special; something well worth seeking. And even if that reward is “only” God’s approval, how amazing is that? Just think about it, one day kneeling before God, and He approves of us because we sought to honour Him. We sought to honour Him even when others hated us. We sought to honour Him even when we personally gained nothing from it, when we even had to give things up. When we had to give up our pride, our reputation. So often that is something distant, meeting God, so it’s not something we think about. If we’ve come near to dying in this world, then it’s probably something we’ve thought more about, but for many of us who haven’t yet faced death, we so often fall into the trap of seeing only the here and now. People are in front of us, we see them, we can poke them—though that’s a good way to get some people to dislike us. It’s easy to seek the approval of those in front of us because we get an instant reward for it. But to work for a reward that we don’t know what is, and we won’t get it until we’re with our Father in heaven? That’s much harder. But that’s the thing. It ensures we’re doing it for the right reasons. We’re doing it because we truly seek to bring God glory, we truly seek His approval, not just our own satisfaction and the warm fuzzies we might get. Not knowing what the reward is keeps us from being motivated by greed. Conclusion Paul and Barnabas got very little reward for what they did, indeed, Paul was stoned and nearly died—or did die and was raised from the dead. We don’t know for sure. What we do know is that the people who had stoned him thought he was dead. The amazing thing, though? Later Paul and Barnabas head back to those very cities—though probably in secret and just meeting with those who had put their faith in Jesus. They took their lives in their hands by going back, and they did so to build the believers there up. They encouraged them that even in the face of persecution, to still honour God. They gained nothing personally from going back, but rather they risked everything. But they did so for the sake of others, they did so because they knew they were following the Holy Spirit, and because of that, were honouring God. Years later, Paul sent a letter to the churches in Galatia—of which these churches were—and said in Galatians 1 that if he were seeking human approval, he certainly wouldn’t be preaching what he was preaching! Everything he told them, everything he went through, he went through for the sake of God. And so my challenge this week is this: Are we seeking the approval of our friends, our coworkers, fellow students, family? Or are we seeking the approval of God? I can promise you that whatever reward in heaven we receive when seek God’s approval—when we follow His commands out of a desire to follow His commands, not out of a desire to be praised by people—that whatever that reward is will be well worth the wait. It will be greater than any reward we could ever receive on earth. What are we willing to give up to receive that reward in heaven? Are we willing to give up being liked by others? Are we willing to give up our possessions? Our pride? Our sin? I promise you, when we stand before God, we will all wish we’d given up more for God’s sake, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. No one will be before God saying, “Maaaan, I wish I’d bought that sports car instead of donating the money to the needy… I wish I’d bought that second house instead of moving to a war-torn country as a missionary… I wish I’d bought that subscription to Netflix instead of donating to anti-trafficking organisations…” No one will be saying that. When we face God, nothing we’ve given up for the sake of His kingdom will we consider a waste. Let’s not be the ones who get to heaven full of regrets over wasting the resources and time God has blessed us with. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.The post Episode 25 Who are you trying to keep happy? first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
29 minutes | Aug 18, 2019
Episode 24 A dangerous sin
Pride is insidious, attacking all, even the most humble of people. Attacking even you. Welcome back. Last week in Episode 23 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast, we looked at Antioch as they made time to pray before they set about the big ministry endeavour of sending Barnabas and Paul on a missionary journey. They discovered in their time of faithful prayer, that God was calling the two for this journey, and even though the church would doubtless miss their teaching and leadership, God had another task planned. How many things have we started in life just because they seemed like good ideas? I know I’ve started dozens of things because it seemed good, or I felt like it. Only to later realise I’ve started too many things, I’ve committed days, weeks, months, years, to something that I never even prayed about. And it led me to the question: How much time have we wasted in my life because we didn’t stop and take the time to pray first? Pray until God gave us an answer before we started a new thing? The sad reality is, I’ve probably wasted years of my life chasing the new and shiny things that excite me, but draw me away from my service to God. So I challenged us to, before committing to things, take the time to pray. Take an hour. Take a day. Take a week. It’s not a waste of time, time spent with our Father in Heaven is never wasted time. Time in prayer is never wasted. This week we’re looking at the perhaps one of the most dangerous sins of all. Pride. Our passage today is Acts 13:13-52 (WEB): 13 Now Paul and his company set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John departed from them and returned to Jerusalem. 14 But they, passing on from Perga, came to Antioch of Pisidia. They went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. 15 After the reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, speak.” 16 Paul stood up, and gesturing with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen. 17 The God of this people chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they stayed as aliens in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm, he led them out of it. 18 For a period of about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 When he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land for an inheritance for about four hundred and fifty years. 20 After these things, he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Afterward they asked for a king, and God gave to them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 When he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, to whom he also testified, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ 23 From this man’s offspring, God has brought salvation to Israel according to his promise, 24 before his coming, when John had first preached the baptism of repentance to Israel. 25 As John was fulfilling his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. But behold, one comes after me, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’ 26 “Brothers, children of the stock of Abraham, and those amongst you who fear God, the word of this salvation is sent out to you. 27 For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they didn’t know him, nor the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28 Though they found no cause for death, they still asked Pilate to have him killed. 29 When they had fulfilled all things that were written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and he was seen for many days by those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses to the people. 32 We bring you good news of the promise made to the fathers, 33 that God has fulfilled this to us, their children, in that he raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son. Today I have become your father.’ 34 “Concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he has spoken thus: ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ 35 Therefore he says also in another psalm, ‘You will not allow your Holy One to see decay.’ 36 For David, after he had in his own generation served the counsel of God, fell asleep, was laid with his fathers, and saw decay. 37 But he whom God raised up saw no decay. 38 Be it known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man is proclaimed to you remission of sins; 39 and by him everyone who believes is justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses. 40 Beware therefore, lest that come on you which is spoken in the prophets: 41 ‘Behold, you scoffers! Wonder and perish, for I work a work in your days, a work which you will in no way believe, if one declares it to you.’ ” 42 So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. 43 Now when the synagogue broke up, many of the Jews and of the devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas; who, speaking to them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44 The next Sabbath, almost the whole city was gathered together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted the things which were spoken by Paul, and blasphemed. 46 Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, and said, “It was necessary that God’s word should be spoken to you first. Since indeed you thrust it from yourselves, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so has the Lord commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you as a light for the Gentiles, that you should bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.’ ” 48 As the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God. As many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 The Lord’s word was spread abroad throughout all the region. 50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, and stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and threw them out of their borders. 51 But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came to Iconium. 52 The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. So Barnabas and Paul continue their missionary journey. They travel to Perga, and John Mark leaves them to return to Jerusalem, and from there, they head to Pisidian Antioch—not the same Antioch that we looked at last week. They head to the synagogue on Saturday and sit in on a service. Now, perhaps Paul wore his pharisaical robes so they recognised him as someone in authority, which is why they asked them out of everyone there to speak, or perhaps it was because they were guests. It’s hard to know for certain why they asked Paul and Barnabas to speak. however, what we can be sure of is that they weren’t expecting what Paul had to say. In a similar fashion to Stephen, Paul starts from the books these Jews hold as true. He starts with Egypt and runs through history and emphasises God’s plan. God chose the Israelites, their ancestors, to be his people. God made them prosper in Egypt. God brought them out of Egypt. God endured their sin in the desert for 40 years. God overthrew the nations in Canaan who were wicked and sinful and gave the land to His people, as he’d promised Abraham 450 years previous. God gave them judges to lead the land. God gave them kings to rule them, when they demanded kings. God chose Saul, a man everyone looked at and said, “Now HE’S kingly and mighty.” And God showed that what we judge as worthy as a king doesn’t always a good king make. So God chose David, a man after His own heart, and showed Israel the importance of looking beyond appearances. As Paul is talking through all this, I can just imagine the Jews sitting there nodding along, saying “Amen!” to every point. God is good! Paul paints a picture of how God chose Israel, yet Israel rebelled. God still loved Israel and rescued them. Then they rebelled again. Time and again through history, Israel rebelled against God. Everyone listening knew that, they knew their ancestors were terrible at following God, but that’s okay, people make mistakes. They, however, were great at following God! They’d never rebel against Him. But Paul has only just gotten started. And he continues with the pattern of God doing things for His chosen people, the Israelites, and them rebelling by saying this: God brought the Messiah, Jesus Christ, through David’s line, as He’d promised. Predicted by the last Old Testament prophet, John the Baptist. Now some of the Jews are starting to get uncomfortable. They know that God will send the Messiah—they still believe that today. But Paul is saying the saviour already came! His name is Jesus and the people of Jerusalem and their rulers broke their law in order to sentence him to death. Though Pilate ruled Jesus innocent, they demanded he have Jesus killed. Many were perhaps thinking at this point, “Okay, that was the Jerusalem jews who this man is saying rebelled against God, we’re okay.” And Paul continues with his theme of what God did. He says that despite what the jews did to Jesus, God raised His Son from the dead! And he spent 40 days with the disciples, who are now his witnesses throughout the world. Paul doesn’t end with that, he dives back into the Old Testament scriptures these men and women steadfastly believe and he shows how they point to Jesus. And after declaring that any who believe in Jesus can have true forgiveness of sins—something these Jews know they don’t have, because year after year they’ve had to offer sacrifices for their sins—Paul ends with a warning. He warns that scoffers will wonder and perish. They will hear the truth of Jesus and reject it and die. I can’t help but wonder if Paul is a little nervous about how the Jews will respond to this, I’m sure he well remembers how he and others responded to Stephen’s message, to Stephen saying the same thing. Paul stood by and held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen to death for his words. Is Paul wondering if the same will happen to him and Barnabas now? But they invite Paul and Barnabas back! And as they’re leaving, many follow and ask further questions! How encouraged would Barnabas and Paul been at this point?God’s people, the Jews, were listening! And add to that, they’re asked to return the following week to speak again. And so they do return, to a massive crowd! How exciting and encouraging. But… Then it all falls apart. Just when perhaps Paul is thinking the Jews here might actually listen, be better than the Jews in Jerusalem, the same thing happens again. The same sin rears its ugly head. Pride. They’re not even angry at what Paul is saying. They’re angry that he’s more popular than they are! How ridiculous is that! They’re mad because more people came to listen to Paul and Barnabas than came each week to listen to them! And in their pettiness, they began to contradict Paul and heap abuse on him. Not because they believed he was completely wrong, but because they didn’t like him being more popular. How sad is that. They rejected Jesus because of pride. And so Paul and Barnabas turned to the Gentiles there and addressed them. Paul quotes Isaiah 49:6. “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” Amidst the clamour of the Jews heaping abuse on them, Paul and Barnabas turn to the God-fearing Gentiles in the room and tell them, “They rejected their God, who sacrificed so much for them, what are you going to do?” And in the midst of that disappointment and heartache over their own people, Paul and Barnabas see the Gentiles rejoice and honour the word of the Lord, and all those who were appointed for eternal life chose to believe in Jesus. Because of the Gentiles, the word of the Lord spread through the whole region. And even though the Jewish leaders, in their fit of jealousy and rage, incited the leading women and men of the city to persecute Paul and Barnabas, the Gospel of Jesus spread through the region and the disciples there were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. The danger of pride What stands out to me in this passage is just how dangerous pride is. Acts 13 is a stern warning about pride. Paul made it clear from the Old Testament—the books the Jews believed too—that the Jewish people were prone to pride. Time and again through the Old Testament we see the nation of Israel stop trusting God and trust themselves. We see them believing that it’s through their own greatness that their nation is so powerful. And so God humbles them. Time and again God had to humble His people. His people. And in Paul’s day, so many of the Jews and the Pharisees had great pride in being God’s chosen people. God hadn’t chosen other nations, God chose them. That meant they were better than everyone else. Especially those stinking Samaritans. They were puffed up with pride. Throughout the Old Testament they rejected God because of pride. And when God sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to them, they could literally look upon the face of God’s son, through whom the world was created, and they were too proud to accept Him. They witnessed hundreds of miracles, miracles possible only by God’s power… But because of pride, they rejected Him. In the end, because of pride, they broke their own laws and traditions—which they clung to religiously—and pushed through a trial at night. And they purposefully lied to try have Jesus put to death, but when Pilate would have none of that, they started a riot, which they knew was the one way to get the Roman official charged with keeping the peace to do what they wanted. They did exactly what their ancestors had done time and again. They looked back at their ancestors and doubtless rolled their eyes, saying, “How could you reject God? He was so obviously at work when he saved you from Egypt!” And they did the exact same thing. They saw God through Jesus and because of pride, murdered the Son of the God they claimed to follow. We’re not so different Sitting here today, it’s easy to read this and scoff at the pride of these people. It’s easy to say we’d never do that. We’d never reject God, we’d never scoff at Him, or ignore Him. We’re better, we actually follow God. We know better these days because we can see the trap they fell into. But let me ask this question: How many times have we been convicted by the Holy Spirit regarding sin in our life… but done nothing about it? How many times has God spoken directly to us through His word, the Bible… and we’ve jumped online to google reasons why that Bible passage actually means something else, so we don’t need to change our lives. How many times have we had a Christian brother or sister express concern over something they say is a sin in our life… but just waved the concern away? Pride is just as dangerous today as it was all throughout the Bible. And we’re just as likely to fall for it today as the Jews in Antioch were. Isaiah 66:2b (NIV) says this: “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.” And who do you think God is talking to in Isaiah 66? He’s talking to Israel. Specifically, He’s talking to people who go to the temple to offer sacrifices to Him. Who bring offerings to Him. Who burn incense for Him. In verses 3-4 He has this to say to those people: 3 “But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person, and whoever offers a lamb is like one who breaks a dog’s neck; whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig’s blood, and whoever burns memorial incense is like one who worships an idol. They have chosen their own ways, and they delight in their abominations; 4 so I also will choose harsh treatment for them and will bring on them what they dread. For when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened. They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.” God tells His people, who claim to be worshiping Him, that unless they have a humble and contrite spirit, unless they tremble at His word… They’re no better than anyone who worships an idol. Today, we’re the Body of Christ as believers, we’re the church, his bride. God’s standard hasn’t changed, He’s still just as disgusted by pride. It’s clear what He thinks of the proud in Isaiah 66, and He still thinks the same today. Unless we have humble and contrite spirits, unless we tremble at His word… then it doesn’t matter what we do and claim is for God, if we’re proud, our offerings to Him are a rotten stench. We could run the most successful ministry in the world, but if we’re proud, we disgust God. And pride can lead us down a dangerous path. If we remain proud, eventually it can lead us to believing that we don’t need Jesus, we’re good enough for God. It’s not enough to know Jesus exists. The devil knows Jesus exists. He’s spoken face to face with God! Knowing God exists isn’t enough. Knowing Jesus exists isn’t enough. We need to put our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, acknowledge that we need what he did on the cross for us. It’s very hard to do that when filled with pride. We look on and see people doing seemingly great things for Jesus doesn’t mean they actually know Him. It’s what’s on the inside that counts to God. Just because someone claims to follow Jesus, that does not mean they do. Just because we say we know Jesus, if we’re proud? We better be very, very careful. Do we know Jesus as our Lord and saviour? Or do we know of Jesus but trust in ourselves? Matthew 7:21-23 (WEB), Jesus speaking: 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ 23 Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’ People can do things in Jesus name and when they come face to face with him, will hear the words, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” How is that possible? Pride. A heart filled with pride, not with humility and awe-inspired fear of God. Not only does God hate pride, but look at James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5, James and Peter quote Proverbs 3:34: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Not just does God hate pride, but He actively opposes the proud! That should terrify us! If we’re proud, He opposes us! Yes we can have faith, we can have salvation, but if we’re filled with pride? We’re walking a dangerous path… If you looked at the world today, you might think that the biggest sin that Christians were concerned about was homosexuality. Maybe that’s true, maybe many Christians are most concerned about that. But I’d like to propose another sin that we should be more worried about. It’s a sin that every single person on the face of the earth struggles with. You struggle with it. You struggle with it. I struggle with it. You guessed it. Pride. Pride is lethal; it is the most powerful weapon the Devil has in his arsenal. He used it right at the beginning, in the garden. “You can be equal to God!” he said to Eve. And right now, today, there is sin in your life that pride is saying, “It’s not that bad. It’s not really a sin. At least I’m not doing that, I’m not as bad as that person. The Bible doesn’t really mean it when it says don’t do that. The Bible doesn’t really mean it when it says do that.” That’s pride speaking. Pride tells us we’re fine, that we can just keep doing what we’re doing, no worries. But we should worry. Because look where the Bible shows us pride leads. It led to a people chosen by God rejecting Him. Don’t let your pride lead you down the same path. Conclusion My challenge this week is that we humble ourselves before God. That we ask Him for humility, that He would help us not to be proud. We need to be alert to the danger of pride, because pride does nothing but destroy. Perhaps this scares you, and you’re worried about being proud and worried about how it will harm your faith, your relationship with God. That’s a good thing. We should be worried about pride. We should be looking at God with awe, fear and trembling. Yes He loves us, but He does not love our pride, so we need to get rid of it. If the danger of pride worries you, good! It’s the people who don’t worry about pride who should be most worried about it. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.The post Episode 24 A dangerous sin first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
21 minutes | Aug 11, 2019
Episode 23 Time to pray
Time in prayer with our Father in Heaven is never wasted time. Yet how many times in our life have we gotten busy and the first thing to drop off the list is prayer? Last week in Episode 22 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast, we took a look at how when Peter was arrested and waiting to be sentenced to death, the church gathered together and prayed for him. And not just one prayer for a minute. They prayed constantly for potentially days. And their faith began to waver, so much so that when their prayer was answered, they didn’t believe it at first. But, despite their doubts, when their prayer was finally answered, their faith was strengthened, and Peter left them with the command to spread the news of his rescue by God. That faithful prayer was a demonstration of their authentic faith. They didn’t just say they were Christian, they lived it. They had so much faith in God that they were willing to take days and nights off regular life to pray for Peter’s rescue. We looked at that in relation to the Western church today. The sad statistics are that since the early 2000s, over 50% of young people who have grown up in the church have left and never come back. And why should they? The picture of Christianity that the Western church by and large displays is that it’s something to fill 90 minutes on a Sunday. So many adults talk the talk on Sunday, and are someone completely different at home. And when young people see that, it is incredibly damaging. So I challenged us to have an authentic faith. If we want to raise a new generation that is even more passionate about Jesus than us, our lives need to reflect our faith every single day, no matter where we are. No matter who we’re around. Young people need to see our faith is real, and one way to show it’s real is to faithfully pray, and when God answers prayer, tell those stories! Don’t chalk it up to a coincidence or keep quiet about it! God doesn’t just answer our prayer for our benefit, He also answers it for the benefit of those who trust us, who know when we tell them the story that it’s true. This week we’re looking at making time to pray over decisions. Our passage this week is Acts 13:1-12 (WEB): 1 Now in the assembly that was at Antioch there were some prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen the foster brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they served the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate Barnabas and Saul for me, for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. 4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia. From there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 When they were at Salamis, they proclaimed God’s word in the Jewish synagogues. They also had John as their attendant. 6 When they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of understanding. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul, and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fastened his eyes on him 10 and said, “You son of the devil, full of all deceit and all cunning, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is on you, and you will be blind, not seeing the sun for a season!” Immediately a mist and darkness fell on him. He went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord. So Barnabas and Paul are in Antioch, continue to teach alongside Simeon, Lucius and Manaen, the foster brother of Herod Antipas, who was the father of last week’s Herod. One of the things I love about this church in Antioch, is that they were worshiping and spending time in prayer and fasting. It seemed they were eager to discover how God was working and join with Him, rather than starting a whole bunch of ministries because they wanted to, it seems rather that they were devoting their time to worshiping God and praying, to being a family and providing for those in need, as we saw a couple of weeks ago with sending supplies to their brothers and sisters living in Judea. And as they were praying, the Holy Spirit told them to send Barnabas and Paul off as missionaries, to do the work He has called them for. And so the church did exactly that. They had taken the time to pray, to ask God to make clear the ministries to invest time, resources and people in. And God answered. But it is so easy to try build our own ministries without significant time spent with God in prayer and fasting first. It can be all too easy to find ministries that sound like a good idea and will require a lot of our time and energy and dive headfirst into those. And we do so with good motives, we want to serve God, but how often do we choose to first put a significant amount of time and energy into praying, into asking the Holy Spirit to make our path clear, to lead us to the ministry He’s preparing? I am so guilty of jumping headlong into things without much prayer before I do. Time and again in my life I’ve wandered close to burnout—and, indeed, have burned out—doing things that I thought were good, and just said yes to. And many of the things were good. But I’ve only got so much time and energy, and time and again I try to do everything. Instead of following the example of the Antioch church and spending time in prayer and worship and fasting before starting something, I’ve just started things because they seemed like a good idea at the time. What happens so often to me, though, is once I start something, I feel the pressure to keep going, even if I realise I shouldn’t have started it. Because if I quit, then I’m just a quitter who can’t finish things. And so I keep going, and going, and going, until sheer exhaustion and burnout forces me to quit. All the while, I tend to keep starting new things, because I find something else I think I should be doing instead. As you can imagine, it’s quite a vicious cycle. But reading today’s passage led me to a question: How do we work out when it’s time to “quit” something? It seems like an odd question to spring up from today’s passage, but let me explain. If you’re like me and have a really busy life, a life that is perhaps too busy, how do you tell what to drop so you can properly focus on other areas in your life? Or even, how to tell what to drop so you can spend more time with God? Every single one of us at some point in life will have to quit something. But when it comes to a ministry, it can be really hard to decide whether to quit, because ministry is good, right? We shouldn’t quit good things, just bad things. One question we can ask ourselves is: is it currently bearing fruit? Fruit as in, people being impacted by what we’re doing. Christians aren’t being convicted or built up, those who don’t know Christ aren’t hearing about Him, or are just ignoring us. If we’ve been slogging away at a ministry for a while and it’s not bearing any fruit, that could be an indication that it’s time to put that ministry/endeavour to rest and pursue something else—after we spend a lot of time in prayer! One thing that I noticed from today’s passage is even though the ministry was likely tough and exhausting, a lot of travel was involved, and facing people who actively sought to destroy Barnabas and Saul’s witness, it’s clear that God was behind that ministry. He was behind that effort they started. We know that because not only does verse 2 say that the Holy Spirit had set apart Barnabas and Saul, but because the ministry bore fruit. Holy Spirit led ministries always bear fruit One of the hallmarks of a ministry that’s Spirit-led, is that it bears fruit. That doesn’t mean we’ll always see the fruit, but the fruit will be there. Another mark is that the Holy Spirit will sustain those in the ministry and allow them to keep going, even during the hardships, even during the persecution, during the bad times. We see that when we read through Acts, look at the persecution and the hardship the believers faced time and again, but also look at the fruit being produced. Now, certainly there are times in ministries we’re involved with that we do face exhaustion, defeat, and it seems our ministry is fruitless. It’s easy to get discouraged in those times, very easy. If before we started the ministry, we spent time in pray and fasting over the opportunity, and God made it clear that we should proceed, then perhaps we’re facing a period of relying too much on our own strength, and not enough on the Holy Spirit to sustain us. Perhaps our pride has taken over and we’re fighting by ourselves, not allowing the Holy Spirit to fight through us. In those times, what should we do? Or what if we dived headlong into the ministry, or it’s a ministry that another gave us, not one we even planned to do, what should we do in those times of exhaustion, defeat and apparent fruitlessness? Should we keep going because we should, we agreed to it, we shouldn’t stop? The answer is actually the same for both. Take the time to pray. Make the time to spend with God. Perhaps that means taking a break for a time from the ministry in order to pray and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance. And I don’t mean take the time to sit and think about all the logical reasons for why we should or shouldn’t continue. I mean kneel before God and earnestly pray for wisdom from our generous Father. And I don’t mean a five minute prayer, I mean keep praying! Pray till our knees hurt and then some more. Pray until our stomach rumbles and we need food, and pray some more. Last week we saw the believers in Jerusalem praying for potentially days for Peter’s release. They were awake late at night praying, they were doubtless exhausted, hungry, and ready for sleep. But they were praying. This week we see the believers in Antioch in prayer and fasting over what ministries to pursue. Time and again throughout the scriptures we see believers praying earnestly, fasting, not eating in order to continue praying and devoting themselves completely to God. When was the last time any of us so earnestly sought the Holy Spirit’s guidance on a decision that we just prayed about it? Personally? I don’t do it anywhere near enough. Very rarely do I take decisions I make so seriously. Very rarely do I put that much weight on the Holy Spirit’s guidance, on God’s wisdom. Don’t get me wrong, I think about things a lot, I ponder over decisions and I weigh up all the reasons why or why not I should or shouldn’t do something. I talk to people, I pray a few times for a whopping 30 seconds, I consider how I feel about it, whether I feel like doing it or not. But rarely do I purposefully clear my schedule and devout a large block of time to prayer over decisions. Some decisions I do pray a fair bit about, the decision of whether to stay in Saipan or head to the States was one that had a lot of prayer. But most other decisions I don’t take much time to pray about. I should, though. So whether we’re slogging away at a ministry that appears fruitless, or we’re burned out and exhausted, the solution is the same. Even if we started that ministry with a lot of prayer and fasting and it was clear that God was saying do it, we should still take the time now to pray. But, especially if we started a ministry without properly devoting it to God in prayer and asking Him whether it’s Him wanting us to start it or us wanting to start it, we should take the time now to pray about that. Even if that ministry is going well right now, take the time to bring it before God. Because the best ministries we can be involved with are the ones that He has set for us, the ones that the Holy Spirit is leading. One thing that has taken me a long time to realise is that time with God, time in prayer, time in His Word, is never wasted time. Time in prayer is never wasted time My point this week is that before we start ministries, before we fill our lives with things to do, let’s pray about them. Seriously pray about them. Not just for a minute every day or so… But spend hours if necessary in prayer, seeking God’s will. Take as long as necessary for the Holy Spirit to make the path clear for us. And when we face times of doubt, of overwhelm, of exhaustion, of feeling what we’re doing is fruitless, clear our schedules and once again pray. It’s easy to feel that we don’t have time for prayer. But talking to our Father in Heaven is never a waste. And yet, despite that, we fill our lives with nearly everything but prayer, time in God’s word, and worshiping Him. If you wanted to demonstrate to someone that you loved them, would you fill up your life with everything but time with them? Or would you ruthlessly attack your schedule and force time with them into it, regardless of who gets annoyed at you because you’re cutting out time to do stuff for them? How often do we ruthlessly attack our schedule and force it to allow us time to be with God? How often do we instead say, “I’m just too busy. I’ve got so much to do. You don’t understand, work is crazy at the moment, I don’t have time to pray.” So my challenge this week is this: Attack your schedule, your busy life, make time for God. Don’t just fit Him into the five minutes before you sleep. Show Him how much you love Him by being willing to sacrifice something else in your schedule so you can instead spend that time with Him. After all, what’s a bit of time compared to what He sacrificed for us? What’s risking someone being annoyed because we no longer have time to keep them happy compared to what Jesus sacrificed when he came to earth to pay the price for our sins? And then, when we face decisions, decisions for ministry, decisions for anything that will take up more of our time, block out a day to just spend praying. If we can’t afford to take a day to pray for something, we can’t afford to take the time to do that thing, either. I promise, time in prayer won’t be wasted time. Rather, it could be the best possible time you’ve ever spent. You might need to sacrifice some things in order to make that time, but it will be worth the sacrifice. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct.The post Episode 23 Time to pray first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
27 minutes | Aug 4, 2019
Episode 22 The cost of inauthentic faith
In the West, 60% of young people who grow up in the church leave by the time they get to college. Today we’ll look at why that is and what we can do to change that. Last week in our journey through Acts, we had a look at how God uses all people to accomplish His purposes. He doesn’t just wait for people with seminary degrees and training to go plant churches and tell the world about Him, he uses all of us. We saw how last week Jesus picked a bunch of the most unqualified men on earth to be his disciples. He didn’t go to the synagogue and pick the best trained pharisees, he picked fishermen, a tax collector, rebels, and so on. Then almost immediately he had them start doing ministry. They didn’t wait for three years learning in a class room with one or two excursions to run a youth group for a night or preach at a church. They were thrown headlong into ministry and sent out to heal the sick, cast out demons and spread the gospel within months of beginning with Jesus. They travelled with Jesus throughout Judea and got a lot of on the job experience. It can be so easy for us to say, “I’m just an ordinary person. I’m not qualified to talk to others about Jesus, I’m not qualified to lead a church, or run a Bible study.” But that’s pretty much what Moses said to God! “I’m not qualified, get my brother!” God wasn’t happy with Moses constantly refusing. God had a job that He wanted Moses for. And you know what? God has a job that He wants you for. And God doesn’t make wrong decisions. So I challenged us last week to be willing, to be ready to follow Him on whatever task He has for us, not to fight Him and try talk ourselves out of following Him. This week we’re talking about the importance of clinging to faith, even when it seems impossible, and when God answers prayer, telling others about it, especially our families! Our passage today is Acts 12 (WEB). 1 Now about that time, King Herod stretched out his hands to oppress some of the assembly. 2 He killed James, the brother of John, with the sword. 3 When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This was during the days of unleavened bread. 4 When he had arrested him, he put him in prison and delivered him to four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 Peter therefore was kept in the prison, but constant prayer was made by the assembly to God for him. 6 The same night when Herod was about to bring him out, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains. Guards in front of the door kept the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up, saying, “Stand up quickly!” His chains fell off his hands. 8 The angel said to him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” He did so. He said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He didn’t know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he saw a vision. 10 When they were past the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened to them by itself. They went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. 11 When Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I truly know that the Lord has sent out his angel and delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from everything the Jewish people were expecting.” 12 Thinking about that, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 When Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognised Peter’s voice, she didn’t open the gate for joy, but ran in and reported that Peter was standing in front of the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are crazy!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.” 16 But Peter continued knocking. When they had opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But he, beckoning to them with his hand to be silent, declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. He said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place. 18 Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir amongst the soldiers about what had become of Peter. 19 When Herod had sought for him and didn’t find him, he examined the guards, then commanded that they should be put to death. He went down from Judea to Caesarea, and stayed there. 20 Now Herod was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. They came with one accord to him and, having made Blastus, the king’s personal aide, their friend, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. 21 On an appointed day, Herod dressed himself in royal clothing, sat on the throne, and gave a speech to them. 22 The people shouted, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he didn’t give God the glory. Then he was eaten by worms and died. 24 But the word of God grew and multiplied. 25 Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their service, also taking with them John who was called Mark. Faithful prayer There is so much in this passage. It’s another incredible story of God’s amazing power. He had a purpose for Peter still, it wasn’t his time to go home to be with God. And so God pulls off the most astounding jailbreak in Acts. Probably in history. Peter just walks out. But what I really want to focus in on today is the believers who met in Mary’s house, praying for Peter’s release. I want to focus on faithful prayer. They were likely praying for days for Peter, for so long they’d begun to lose hope. Their faith was weakening, so much so that they didn’t believe it when their prayer was finally answered. I want to focus on this because that’s how God works. He pushes our faith to the breaking point, and then a little further. He pushes us to the point that we believe, but the doubts are starting to nag, and we’re desperately trying to still believe and be faithful, but it’s hard. Often times He pushes us until we believe it’s now impossible for the prayer to be answered, and yet we’re still praying. Then God answers. What I want to encourage us on today is to be faithful in our prayer. To keep praying, to keep believing. To have faith even when it hurts, even when we think it’s now never going to happen; it’s too late. If you’ve read the prayer list on the back of the bulletin, you’ll have seen that after ten years of prayer, God has brought Debbie’s youngest daughter back into relationship with her. I’m sure there have been many moments in Debbie’s life over the last decade that she’s thought it impossible, that she’ll ever hear from her daughter again. And yet, she continued to pray, continued to ask God to bring her daughter back. And He did. Abraham and Sarah prayed and trusted God’s promise of a child for decades. There were many times in there that their faith was so weak they tried to find ways to fulfil the promise themselves. But finally, when it was impossible, when they could no longer have children… Then God acted. In those moments, something incredible happens. Our faith grows. We trust God in a way we’ve never trusted Him before. And that’s exciting! It can be daunting too, though, because God will continue to push our faith until the day we die if you allow Him. If you choose to trust Him, to allow Him to stretch your faith, by the time you’re old, you’ll have stories for kids and grandkids that will astound them; stories they’d have trouble believing if it weren’t mum or Granddad telling them. And you know what? Those moments of awe when we experience answered prayer aren’t just for our benefit. They’re for the benefit of other believers, for our friends, but specifically, for our families. It’s so important that we share those stories, especially with our families, especially with the next generation. Because if we keep silent about the amazing things God has done, what reason do we give the next generation to trust Him even when it seems impossible? If our kids look at us and see a faith that is nothing more than words and a Sunday ritual of going to church, what reason do they have to follow Jesus? If our faith is nothing more than words, it’s not real. Maybe it is to us, but it won’t be to those around us. It’ll just be a nice thing we believe to help us sleep better at night. But when we’re faithful in prayer and God answers those prayers, that’s real! When we’re faithful in serving God, and God does the impossible, that’s real! And believe me, as someone who was a kid not all that long ago, young people see straight through a faith that is words only. Young people see straight through a person who says one thing but acts another way. If we talk the Christian talk at church, but go home and we’re angry, naggy, belittling, sarcastic, rude, spiteful, petty… then the message we send to those who live with us is this: What we say on Sunday is nothing but a lie, how we act on Sunday is just that, an act. What kind of a message does that send to young people? If we wouldn’t dream of letting other Christians, especially adults see our “true self”, who we are at home, then why do we think God would ever want to see us be like that? Why do we think He’d be okay with us being like that around His children—the children He blesses us with? The Bible has some very strong words to say for those who lead young people astray. Matthew 18:6 Jesus says that it would be better for someone to have a heavy stone tied to their neck and they be thrown into the sea than for them to lead one of his little ones astray. Our actions impact the next generation With my own first kid arriving in a few months, this is something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot lately. And to be honest, at times I’ve been flat out discouraged and overwhelmed. I want to raise children whose faith puts mine to shame. Who are so all out for God that they don’t make all the mistakes I did when I was growing up. But did you know that statistically there’s only a 30% chance that by the time they hit college that they’ll still even profess to have faith in Jesus? 30%. Less than one in three. If Brittany and I have three kids, statistically only one of them will still believe in Jesus, the Son of God who died and rose again, by the time they’re 18. Now, I know full well that even if we were perfect parents that that doesn’t mean our kids will be perfect kids. They still need to make the choice to follow God. And I know that you can do everything right, and still be rejected by those you love most. But still, the question plaguing me this week was this: What are we as adults doing wrong that 70% of the next generation is giving up on God? Because for the number to be that high, we’ve got to be doing something wrong. I can’t believe that we could be doing everything right as church in the West and yet still lose 70% of young people by the time they get to college, with only a 20%-30% of those ever returning to the church. And those numbers have been happening since the early 2000s. At that rate, unless something drastic changes, within a few generations, the Christian church in the West will be all but extinct. We’ll be the nation desperately needing missionaries from the thriving churches in China, the Middle East, South America, to come to us and preach the gospel because so few actually know it. Maybe some scoff and say that’ll never happen, America is a christian nation, we say “God bless America!” So therefor He will! But the thing is, it is happening, and you don’t have to look for long or hard to see it happening. You don’t have to dig for long to hear of Indian pastors who weep for America, or South American churches who are already sending missionaries to the States. Or Chinese believers who laugh at the idea of people not attending a church because the preacher teaches for 50 minutes instead of 30, or because they didn’t have a Saturday night service they could attend so they didn’t miss games on Sunday. While we worry about the amenities a church can provide, we are literally becoming the laughing stock of the Christian world. I truly believe that Christians in the West have by and large fallen asleep. And the biggest danger Jesus talks about again and again throughout scripture is us falling asleep, because Jesus will return like a thief in the night, when no one is aware. So we should be awake! Preparing in case he does return tomorrow! If he were to return today, do you think he’d be proud of the American church? Do you think he’d be proud of the millions of “Christians” who go to church on Sunday and forget about it on Monday? I find it hard to believe that he’d have good things to say. So let’s not be like that. Let’s be waiting for his return like he commands us to, let’s be purposeful in how we live our lives, in how we talk about our faith and the stories of what God has done in our lives. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t relax. We’re not here to have the most comfortable life we can get. If you call Jesus your lord, this isn’t your home. Heaven is your home. Your home is eternity in God’s presence. We’re here to do a job, and that job is simple: Spread the gospel. We’re only here for a few short years, don’t waste it by building the best life possible. If you want to please your boss, do you take as much time off as possible to make your job as comfortable as possible? Or do you do as much work as you can? Use every resource you’ve been given and tirelessly do the work given you? God has given us the Holy Spirit, there is no more greater help we could have than the Holy Spirit in us. We’ve looked time and again at what the Holy Spirit has done for those who choose to let him be powerful in their lives. He’s still just as powerful today. We’ll have plenty of time to relax in heaven. Eternity, in fact. And eternity is a really, really long time. I don’t want to get to eternity and realise I wasted most of my life trying to be comfortable and make my life nice. I don’t want to get to heaven and have God shake His head and ask what on earth I was doing. And I can tell you for certain that we won’t have a happy “boss” if the only time we make time for Him in our lives is 90 minutes on Sunday morning and maybe some scattered thoughts and prayers and Bible reading through the week. If that’s the picture of the Western church, if that’s the standard so many young people within Christian homes grow up to expect, is it any surprise at all that so many abandon the church? No! None at all! If we give children the impression that we’re in church only for what we get out of it, and that church is there for our benefit once a week, what incentive do they have to stay? It’s like expecting our children to like the same movies and music we do, just because we like them. It’s ceases to be real. It’s entertainment. That’s the message we as a church in the West are sending to young people. We’re sending that message because by and large in the West, that’s how we treat church. We go for animated preaching full of great analogies and pop culture references, we go for a full band and light show, we go for barista coffee and specialty teas. In the West, so often we fall into the trap of wanting Christianity for its perks, its kids programs, its fun events. But that’s not Christianity! You know what message Jesus preached most often about putting faith in him? “You’re gonna suffer! Count the cost before going in because it will be steep. Don’t follow me unless you’re willing to lose everything, because if you don’t count that cost and you give up because you decide it’s too high down the track, you’ll look like a fool, and you’ll harm those who look up to you.” The only incentive we have to follow Jesus according to him, is because he’s real, and he’s the only way to God the Father. He’s the only way we can have forgiveness for our sins. And a promise we have when we give our lives to him is that we will suffer. But we can suffer with joy because we’re counted worthy of suffering for His name, like James, like Stephen. If we want Jesus but no suffering, we want a fairytale. We want something that doesn’t exist. And if we as adults live lives that tell the next generation that we believe that Christians don’t suffer, that it’s all about health, wealth and happiness, and that when we believe in Jesus, God will give us everything we believe… It’s no wonder that so many young people leave the church in disgust. Because that Jesus doesn’t exist. That god is a lie. One glimpse at what Jesus actually says in the Bible will show that. And when kids read the Bible, and see how their parents, how their elders in church live, if that doesn’t match up…? That’s harmful. Conclusion But how does that relate to faithful prayer and sharing stories of the wonders God does? Faithful prayer demonstrates our absolute faith in God and that Jesus is real. Faithful prayer demonstrates that we truly believe God is real. In actions, not just in words. And answers to our prayers? Those are real live examples of just how real our God is. They are undeniable examples of the Holy Spirit’s power. And when faithful prayer with a heart to serve God goes hand in hand with God’s incredible answers to prayer, it’s a witness more powerful than any words we can give. It’s a demonstration of an authentic faith in a real God. What more powerful testimony can we give the next generation than that? We can talk the talk, but unless we live it, unless we breath it, our words are just that. Words. And we need to take how we live our lives seriously, we need to seriously consider what message our lives are sending to young people because Jesus would rather we drown than lead his young people astray with inauthentic faith. And that should terrify us. Terrify us so much that we do everything we can to avoid it. Not to be perfect, because we never will be, but to be authentic. So my challenge this morning is twofold: 1. Allow God to push our faith, to be faithful and continue to pray even when it seems impossible. Because God answers massive prayers, God answers impossible prayers. He doesn’t answer every prayer, sometimes we’re asking for things that aren’t good for us, sometimes we’re asking selfishly. Just like a child who only asks for candy for every meal. Nope, gotta eat some veggies and get some protein too. Only sugar is bad for you. Sometimes are prayers are prayers for candy all the time. But, the more we desperately seek to honour God, the more likely we are to be praying the right prayers, prayers that are good, prayers that will bring God glory. See James 4, he talks about the importance of having the right motives when we pray. 2. When God answers prayer, tell others! Especially family! Tell your kids, tell your siblings, tell your parents! Parents, let your children see your faith through how you live your life, not just your life when around other people, but how you live your life at home, too. Because nothing destroys a young faith faster than seeing parents who act one way at church, but another at home. I have far too many friends who grew up in homes like that, and not many of them chose to follow Jesus. And finally, to everyone whose parents’ faith wasn’t authentic, or didn’t have faith. This is who the Bible teaches us Jesus is: He is the Son of a Holy and Righteous God. He came to earth to people who God had chosen to be His own, and those people hated him, and ultimately murdered him. But that was part of God’s plan, because through that death, Jesus paid the price for our sin, for every mistake we’ve ever made, and believe me, we’ve all made mistakes. I’ve made more than I even remember. We need his forgiveness. We need what he did for us on the cross. Three days later God raised him from the dead, defeating death and giving us the gift of salvation. A gift that we can have simply by putting our faith in Jesus, by following him as our Lord and Saviour. But the world will treat us the way it treated Jesus. It hated him, it hates us. We don’t give our lives to Jesus because we want to fit in with the world. We give our lives to Jesus because we know we’ve messed up and need forgiveness. Because unless we accept the forgiveness offered through Jesus death and resurrection, we’ll pay the price for our own sins. And that price is eternal torment in hell, separated from God. Regardless of your parents’ faith, this is who God is, this is who Jesus is. This is what God’s Word teaches us, and that’s who we should be putting our faith in. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct.The post Episode 22 The cost of inauthentic faith first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
17 minutes | Jul 28, 2019
Episode 21 God doesn’t need professionals to grow His kingdom, He needs willing people
It takes all sorts to build the Kingdom of Heaven. Not just the evangelists, the pastors, the theologians. It takes them. It takes you. It takes me. Last week episode 20 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast we took a look at how important it is to not let our culture, or even church culture, add to the gospel. It’s all too easy if we’ve been in the church for a long time to expect Christians to look and act a certain way, and if they don’t, then we doubt their salvation. In last week’s passage, some of the believers in Jerusalem were trying to add to the gospel by expecting all male believers to be circumcised before they were really accepted. But Peter showed how God had made everyone clean, and that circumcision had nothing to do with salvation. Then those early believers did something we can really learn from. They saw the truth and praised God for the wonders He had done. We can all too easily fall into a trap of being so insistent that our way of seeing the world is right, that we ignore when God is clearly showing another way. This week we’re looking at how God used ordinary people—not the apostles or other leaders in Jerusalem—to plant one of the strongest churches in the first century church. Our passage today is Acts 11:19-30 (WEB): 19 They therefore who were scattered abroad by the oppression that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews only. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. 22 The report concerning them came to the ears of the assembly which was in Jerusalem. They sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch, 23 who, when he had come, and had seen the grace of God, was glad. He exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they should remain near to the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, and many people were added to the Lord. 25 Barnabas went out to Tarsus to look for Saul. 26 When he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they were gathered together with the assembly, and taught many people. The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. 27 Now in these days, prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up and indicated by the Spirit that there should be a great famine all over the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius. 29 As any of the disciples had plenty, each determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea; 30 which they also did, sending it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. So here in Chapter 11, we take a look back at events that started in Chapter 6 with the capture of Stephen. In chapter 8—which we looked at in Episode 12—a great persecution broke out and believers scattered. By and large we see that many only spread the good news of Jesus amongst the Jews. Some, however, went to Antioch and began to tell the Greeks there about Jesus. And the Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. Now, it’s easy to think that events are moving really quickly in Acts. It certainly feels like we’re just months after Jesus returned to heaven. But, in actual fact, the church in Antioch was founded 10-15 years after Jesus resurrection. Everything we’ve been looking at over this series is spread over that period. We’re given a clue to how much time has passed because at the end of this chapter, Luke references a famine which happened during the reign of Claudius. Claudius began to reign in 41 AD—Jesus was crucified in about 30 AD—and Egyptian documents indicate a major famine through parts of the land in 46 AD. So that gives us the ten to fifteen year range. But it was probably closer to fifteen years by the time Barnabas brought Saul to Antioch. When the church in Jerusalem heard of what was happening in Antioch, they sent Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, to them. And he did exactly that, he encouraged them, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. And while there, Barnabas remembered Saul, that crazy, zealous believer he’d met years ago who once persecuted the church, but was now passionate about delivering the gospel of Jesus to the gentiles. So he went and found him and together they met with the church and taught great numbers of people. It can be easy to read this passage and later say that Saul and Barnabas were the ones who set this church up in Antioch. It can be easy to credit them as the founders. But the real founders, the people who God first used? They were laymen. They weren’t pastors or specially trained church-planters with seminary degrees. They were believers who fled Jerusalem after a great persecution and wound up in Antioch. And while they were in Antioch… they did what Jesus commanded: they told others the good news of Jesus. So often when we think of church planting, we think of people who were trained and then appointed by a church or organisation to go establish a new church. A lot of planning generally goes into a church plant. The city is assessed to see if it has a need for more churches, then people are trained and they head out with support from a larger organisation or church and away they go. But here in Acts, we see the very opposite. We see some ordinary, unimportant believers move to a new city and see how little impact the gospel has on the city, and they just start telling others about Jesus. It’s what they were taught to do, to share the gospel with everyone. They didn’t need to be appointed to have that responsibility. Jesus gave it to all believers. People listened because God’s hand was with them. And a church was formed with little or no planning. When the news of that church reached Jerusalem, they sent an experienced believer down to support them, not to take over and run it for them, but to support the work that God was already doing. You know, this is exactly how Church 360 started, the church I serve as a pastor at as of the recording of this episode. The founders, the Woods, didn’t move to Saipan with the plan to start a church. God put that desire on their hearts once they got here. They saw a need and acted on it. As time went by, people with more experience came alongside the Woods and supported them. But Church 360 started by a couple of “ordinary” believers seeing a need and telling others about Jesus. And now 360 is a church with support from established churches around the Pacific. It didn’t start with a careful human plan, it started by God putting a need on a young couples’ hearts. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s great that there are organisations out there who train and support church planters. That is a huge need, because it’s tough. Getting wisdom and training from experienced church planters is a good thing. But my point is, the Lord doesn’t need specially trained personnel to grow the Kingdom of God. He just needs willing people. People willing to follow Jesus command and tell others the good news about him and what he’s done. Because ultimately, it’s God who grows His Kingdom, not the people. But it’s all too easy to slip into the mindset that church planting is up to the professionals, it’s not our responsibility. Outreach is up to church leadership. Evangelism is up to those qualified. What we see in Acts, though, is churches being started by people with no training, people who are certainly not professional church planters. What we see in Acts 11:29-30 is ordinary people in churches starting ministries and outreach efforts by themselves and then asking the important people—Barnabas and Saul—to help them with it. What we see is evangelism being done by… well, actually, when you really look at it, it’s being done by qualified evangelists. But the thing with evangelism that makes these “normal” believers qualified, is that every single person who knows Jesus, who has put their faith in Jesus, the Son of God who came to earth to die for our sins and rose again three days later defeating death, every single Christian is qualified to be an evangelist. Why? Because if we know Jesus, we know the gospel! It’s impossible to know Jesus and not know the gospel. And if we know the gospel and our story of salvation, we’re qualified to tell it! So often though, we can be like Moses, and when God says, “I want you to talk to that person.” We respond with, “But I’m not qualified! You should get this person to talk to them, they’re much better at speaking than I am.” Conclusion Evangelism, church growth, even church planting, they’re not up to just a select few specialised people. Those tasks are the responsibility of all of us. Certainly some the Holy Spirit gives the spiritual gift of evangelism to, and they are supernaturally good at it. Some God calls to plant churches, others He doesn’t. But evangelism? Talking to others about Jesus? That’s a responsibility of all of us, regardless of qualifications. We all have a different story, and those stories are needed. We never know if it’s our story that God will use to impact others. The testimony of a gifted evangelist will mean nothing to some people. But your story, your testimony, that’s what they need to hear. It can be easy to leave it up to other people to talk about Jesus. It can be easy to tell ourselves that we’re not qualified, and perhaps we don’t have formal theological training, if that’s you, well, I got news for you. Sometimes God doesn’t want the person who spent twenty years as a pastor, has multiple theological degrees and has written a dozen books. He wants you. He wants me. He wants the person who has no theological qualifications, no experience, no training. Why? Because some people need to hear from “ordinary” people, not from pastors and theologians, seminary professors and professional church planters. Jesus didn’t rock up to the synagogue and choose the best trained Pharisees. He rocked up to the docks and chose uneducated fishermen. He chose a hated taxman. He chose fiery tempered young men. He chose rebels who wanted to overthrow the Roman empire. In other words, he chose the least qualified people on earth to be evangelists and trained them on the job. They didn’t spend three years with him and then begin ministry. They began ministry with him from day one, and had a lot of learning and growing to do. But, God also wants the theologians, the pastors, the seminary professors, the qualified church planters. The thing is, it’s not about our qualifications. It’s about our desire to follow Jesus’ commands and take the gospel to the ends of the earth, and to our neighbour. And so my challenge this week is that we pray and ask God to show us how to serve Him. If we’re already actively serving Him, then pray and ask Him how we can serve better. Pray for the courage to tell our story, our testimony. Pray for the courage to follow Him, not to wait for someone else to ask us to, not to wait for someone more qualified. No one is more qualified than you are to do the tasks that God has planned for you. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct.The post Episode 21 God doesn’t need professionals to grow His kingdom, He needs willing people first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
26 minutes | Jul 21, 2019
Episode 20 The Gospel versus culture
Culture drives everything we do in life. How we were raised impacts every decision and reaction, even the unconscious ones. But God’s Word supersedes culture, and we need to put God’s standards first. Last week episode 19 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast, we spent time in Acts looking at the faith of a Roman centurion, Cornelius. What was so incredible about his faith was just how straight forward he was with it. He didn’t try to argue his way out of things, he took God at His Word, and immediately did what God commanded of him. I challenged us to do the same when we sit down to read God’s word. I challenged us to read with humility and a willingness to learn, with the desire to change our lives to suit God’s word, instead of trying to change God’s Word to suit our lives. This week we’re continuing the idea of not changing God’s word by looking at an event where some of the early believers let their culture change the gospel. They tried to add to salvation something that Jesus never taught. Our passage today is Acts 11:1-18 (WEB): 1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2 When Peter had come up to Jerusalem, those who were of the circumcision contended with him, 3 saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” 4 But Peter began, and explained to them in order, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision: a certain container descending, like it was a great sheet let down from heaven by four corners. It came as far as me. 6 When I had looked intently at it, I considered, and saw the four-footed animals of the earth, wild animals, creeping things, and birds of the sky. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter, kill and eat!’ 8 But I said, ‘Not so, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered into my mouth.’ 9 But a voice answered me the second time out of heaven, ‘What God has cleansed, don’t you call unclean.’ 10 This was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven. 11 Behold, immediately three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent from Caesarea to me. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them without discriminating. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered into the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying to him, ‘Send to Joppa and get Simon, who is called Peter, 14 who will speak to you words by which you will be saved, you and all your house.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us at the beginning. 16 I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John indeed baptised in water, but you will be baptised in the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave to them the same gift as us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I, that I could withstand God?” 18 When they heard these things, they held their peace and glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life!” So in chapter 10, we have the amazing event of God telling Peter that no one is unclean whom He has made clean, and He has declared the gentiles clean. Not only can Jews be saved, but also Gentiles. But now Peter returns to Jerusalem. He’s barely set foot in the city when a group of Christians found him and began to criticise him for spending time in the house of uncircumcised men and eating with them. See, this group, while Christians, were trying to add to the gospel. They were bringing an aspect of Judaism—circumcision of males—and saying that to be a Christian, you not only had to accept Jesus Christ as Lord, you also had to be circumcised if you were a male. Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus ever say that circumcision is a requirement for salvation. And this is why we do need to carefully view the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament, this is why we need to check it against what Jesus did and said. Because in the Old Testament, male circumcision was a requirement God gave to the people of Israel. It was a symbol that they were a set apart people. But Jesus removed the need for that when he came and died on the cross. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:1-6 (WEB): 1 Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2 Behold, I, Paul, tell you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 Yes, I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is a debtor to do the whole law. 4 You are alienated from Christ, you who desire to be justified by the law. You have fallen away from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit, by faith wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision amounts to anything, but faith working through love. He continues in verses 13-15: 13 For you, brothers, were called for freedom. Only don’t use your freedom an an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants to one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, be careful that you don’t consume one another. The entire law is fulfilled in keeping one command: Love your neighbour as yourself. When Jesus came, he redefined what following God looked like. Instead of being a long list of laws for purity and how to conduct ourselves, he instead responded with this when asked by the Pharisees which law was the most important Matthew 22:37-40 (WEB): 37 Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” When we love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and love our neighbours as ourselves, we fulfil the law. And believe me, it’s more than hard enough to follow just those two commands. I talked about this topic a bit last week, but the reason I came back to it was to demonstrate again how Jesus redefined things when he came. In Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins by saying that not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of the pen will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. He says that those who don’t follow what he’s about to say—which is redefining how to follow the Law given to Moses—will be least in the Kingdom of Heaven. And this is important, Jesus does not say that if you don’t follow the law then you can’t have salvation. Following the law doesn’t grant salvation. It can’t. It never could. And that’s what the Pharisees and the Jews missed. They believed following the law earned them salvation. The reason this is important in today’s passage is because this should have been something clear to anyone who gave their life to Christ in the early church. These circumcised believers who came and criticised Peter should already have known what Jesus taught about the law, that Jesus taught that it wasn’t the law that gave salvation, but rather, the only way to the Father was through the Son, Jesus. And yet, these Jewish Christians carried something from their culture and tried to add it to the gospel of salvation. They were doing exactly what the Pharisees for so long had done. The Pharisees took God’s original law given through Moses, and added all their own rules to it. Now these Christians who had come from Judaism were taking God’s free gift of salvation… And adding a cost to it. If you were a dude, you had to be circumcised to be saved. They took the gospel of salvation given by Jesus, and added to it. They changed it. Paul in Galatians 1:6-9 (WEB) has this to say about changing the gospel of salvation: 6 I marvel that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ to a different “good news”, 7 but there isn’t another “good news.” Only there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the Good News of Christ. 8 But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you any “good news” other than that which we preached to you, let him be cursed. 9 As we have said before, so I now say again: if any man preaches to you any “good news” other than that which you received, let him be cursed. What really struck me with Acts 11 was just how easy it is to take our culture and try make the gospel fit it, make our understanding of the Bible suit how our culture teaches us to live. These circumcised believers took something they grew up with, circumcision, and they tried to fit it into the gospel, to make it a part of salvation. Anyone who wasn’t circumcised was unclean and unfit to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven in their mind. And my question is: How often have we taken aspects of our culture—even our church culture—and judged others unworthy because they didn’t fit? I’ve witnessed so many situations of a tattooed person being judged unworthy of God’s kingdom. Of someone wearing shorts and flip-flops to church being deemed unworthy—not here of course. Of someone drinking being unworthy, of taking drugs being unworthy, of swearing… the list goes on! And I’m not saying that everything on that list is good, that’s not my point. My point is that salvation doesn’t hinge on whether or not we look a certain way, act a certain way, or even if we sin. Salvation hinges on putting our faith in God’s Son, Jesus. Yes repentance is a part of that, but it’s about repenting of our previous refusal to accept Jesus, of our outlook on sin. When we repent and turn to Jesus, we’re saying, “I didn’t think I needed salvation previously, but now I turn from that and recognise that I am a sinner, and I need God’s forgiveness, I need to follow Jesus Christ and let the Holy Spirit work in me to change my life.” We don’t have to wait until we’ve repented of every single sin we’ve ever committed before we can have salvation. If that were so, we’d never achieve salvation, because many of us have doubtless committed sins we don’t even realise yet are sins. Many of us will probably die with unrepented sin in our lives. But what is important is that we recognise that we are horrible, terrible people by God’s perfect standard. Even if we never hurt a fly, we’re failures next to God’s standard. Even if we spent every day of our life giving to charity, feeding the poor, opening the door for others, saying please and thank you, giving up our spot in a queue to the person with only a few items, not honking when someone cut us off, not even slowing down to a crawl when being tailgated… even if we do all that, we’re still dirty, rotten, pathetic, miserable sinners who deserve to be separated from God forever in the fires of hell. Putting our faith in Jesus is saying yeah, we recognise that’s who we are, and that we’ll always fall short of God’s standard… unless our sins are washed away by the blood Jesus spilled on the cross when he died as the perfect and blameless sacrifice for sin. And we can have salvation and eternal life because God rose him up three days later, defeating death. So we need to be careful that we don’t add to that gospel of salvation. We need to be careful not to let our cultures influence our faith, but rather, let our faith influence our culture, and how we see culture. It can be all too easy to say, “Yes, you can be saved, but if you don’t dress nicely on Sunday—maybe cover up the tattoos—and stop swearing instantly, well, I’ll be concerned for your soul. I’m not sure you’re really saved if you still swear.” That might sound a bit silly to some, but the point is this: As we’ve grown up, especially those of us who have been Christians a long time, we tend to develop our idea of what a Christian looks like, how a Christian should act. And unfortunately, what that looks like isn’t always how the Bible teaches us Christians should look. For example, if you were to never have stepped foot in a church in your life and you were to read Acts, the impression of church you’d get would look nothing like the average Western church. Not even remotely close. We’ve seen this year how the early church was a church that met constantly, not just on Sunday. They actually did life together. Many in the church were selling possessions so the church could give to the poor. How many churches in the West have you seen where rich members are selling houses and downsizing so the church can support the widows, the orphans, the disabled, those in need? What we have in the west is a ninety minute meeting once a week where we say hi to a few people, sing a few songs, listen to a short sermon, maybe tithe, say bye to a few friends and go home. We’ve become so picky about church that we even get bothered if the preaching style isn’t exactly what we want, if the lighting in the church isn’t nice enough, if the coffee isn’t brewed on time, if the music is the wrong style, if the people aren’t dressed in the right way. Not one single one of those things is mentioned even once in Acts. And yet many of those things have become how we decide which church is worth investing our time in. And the worst part is, when we do pick a church and get settled and comfortable with how things function, if someone comes in who doesn’t fit the mould? So often the church, whether intentionally or not, alienates that person and leaves them feeling like they’re not welcome to be a part of the Body of Christ. Perhaps we should be looking for the people who seem out of place, and making a special effort to make them feel welcome, because when God adopted us as His children, you can bet we look out of place against His perfection. And yet… every sinner who gives their life to Christ… the awe-inspiring angels in God’s presence rejoice for that one person. Luke 15:10. My point is this: Do we require other believers to live, act, and present themselves a certain way before we accept them? Do we follow in the footsteps of the circumcised believers who were upset with Peter because of who he spent time with? Who didn’t think Cornelius and his family and friends were fit for the Kingdom of Heaven because they didn’t tick all their boxes? I’ve found it’s all too easy to be like a pharisee when you grow up in the Western church. I’ve certainly judged many a person in my life by standards I got from church culture, not from the Bible. But the circumcised believers weren’t all bad Yes, they did try to exclude from God’s family people whom God had accepted… However, there is a lesson these circumcised believers can teach us. They began this passage by trying to influence the gospel with their culture. But they ended it by accepting what God had done and praising Him. After Peter told the story, clearly demonstrating God’s power, and having witnesses to back up the story, in verse 18 the circumcised believers had no further objections and praised God. We should strive to have that level of humility, of being open to God’s work and how He’s guiding things. When we see something different in how others worship, in how other believers do life, in the decisions they make, instead of first assuming that because it’s not how we’d do things, it’s wrong, we should go to the Bible and see if things match up. What we may discover is we’re not matching up with the Bible because we’re judging by mere appearances. John 7:24. It’s all too easy to criticise how others live, and completely disregard that God created all of us different, and our faith has many ways of being expressed. We need to remember that what church looks like in the West, is by and large nothing like what the early church looked like. That doesn’t make it all wrong, or bad, or mean no good is happening or that God isn’t using it. But it does perhaps mean that we have a lot of room for improvement. So before we judge how others do church, or how others live out their faith, let’s make sure our faith is lining up with the Bible, and that we’re not judging based on our own culture and tradition, but by the Bible’s standard. And make sure we’re first striving to fix our own life. Conclusion Be careful not to judge other believers actions based on how we were raised, but rather, judge actions based on what Jesus teaches. Read Matthew 5-8 and take a look at how Jesus teaches us to live. That’s the standard by which we should live life. And remember, even if another believer fails to live their life according to Jesus commands, that doesn’t automatically rule them out of salvation. It can be easy to take the leap and say because someone is sinning, they’re not saved. But remember this: A sinless life isn’t a condition of salvation. And all sin, no matter how big or small we might regard it, is still sin and still puts us short of God’s perfect standard. Our little white lies means we’re just as guilty and deserving of hell as a murderer’s sin. We need to get out of the mindset of grading sin and being less worried about our own sin because it’s “not as bad as their sin.” It is bad! All sin is bad! And we should be striving to follow Jesus commands, especially as laid out in Matthew 5-8. We should be asking the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and seeking to remove all sin from our life. Because when we sin, when we intentionally sin, we stop loving God with all our heart, soul and mind. And we stop loving others as ourself. Because sin is by its nature selfish. It puts the focus on us, our wants, our desires. It pulls the focus from God, from His desire for us, and it pulls the focus form expressing God’s love in how we love others. My challenge this week is twofold. One: be careful not to exclude others from the body of Christ because they don’t match our church’s culture. Two: strive to love God with all your heart, soul and mind. Strive to love others as yourself. To live Christlike lives, we need to put the needs of others above our own needs. Jesus in John 13:34-35 tells the disciples to love one another as he loves them. He died for them. He died for us. That’s how high we should rank the needs of others. We should be willing to die for our brothers and sisters in Christ. By that, the entire world will know we’re Jesus disciples. When we have that kind of love for others, it’s much easier to avoid making the mistake the circumcised believers made in Acts 11, of judging based on our culture and how we were raised instead of on the gospel as Jesus taught it. Really, when we strive to love others in the same way Jesus loved us, well, a lot of these problems cease to exist, because instead of judging differences, we’ll be rejoicing at meeting another brother or sister in Christ. And that’s exciting! Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct.The post Episode 20 The Gospel versus culture first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
23 minutes | Jul 16, 2019
Episode 19 Faith like a child
What kind of faith does Jesus commend in the gospels? Today we’ll take a look. Last week in episode 18 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast, we looked at an amazing story of what the Holy Spirit did through Peter. He healed a paralysed man and raised a woman from the dead. But so often when we read the Bible, we just read the words and the reality of what is happening doesn’t always sink in. I challenged us to really spend time on a passage this last week, to read and reread, to dwell on the amazing things that happen in scripture. To really consider God’s amazing power, and the fact that the Holy Spirit we see at work in the Bible is still just as powerful today, and still I believe just as active. This week we’re looking at the incredible faith of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. This man can teach us a lot about the kind of faith that God loves. Our passage today is Acts 10 (WEB): 1 Now there was a certain man in Caesarea, Cornelius by name, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man, and one who feared God with all his house, who gave gifts for the needy generously to the people, and always prayed to God. 3 At about the ninth hour of the day, he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God coming to him and saying to him, “Cornelius!” 4 He, fastening his eyes on him and being frightened, said, “What is it, Lord?” He said to him, “Your prayers and your gifts to the needy have gone up for a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa, and get Simon, who is also called Peter. 6 He is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the seaside. 7 When the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier of those who waited on him continually. 8 Having explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. 9 Now on the next day as they were on their journey and got close to the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray at about noon. 10 He became hungry and desired to eat, but while they were preparing, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and a certain container descending to him, like a great sheet let down by four corners on the earth, 12 in which were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild animals, reptiles, and birds of the sky. 13 A voice came to him, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 A voice came to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean.” 16 This was done three times, and immediately the thing was received up into heaven. 17 Now while Peter was very perplexed in himself what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made enquiry for Simon’s house, stood before the gate, 18 and called and asked whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was lodging there. 19 While Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men seek you. 20 But arise, get down, and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.” 21 Peter went down to the men, and said, “Behold, I am he whom you seek. Why have you come?” 22 They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous man and one who fears God, and well spoken of by all the nation of the Jews, was directed by a holy angel to invite you to his house, and to listen to what you say.” 23 So he called them in and provided a place to stay. On the next day Peter arose and went out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 On the next day they entered into Caesarea. Cornelius was waiting for them, having called together his relatives and his near friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. 26 But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up! I myself am also a man.” 27 As he talked with him, he went in and found many gathered together. 28 He said to them, “You yourselves know how it is an unlawful thing for a man who is a Jew to join himself or come to one of another nation, but God has shown me that I shouldn’t call any man unholy or unclean. 29 Therefore I also came without complaint when I was sent for. I ask therefore, why did you send for me?” 30 Cornelius said, “Four days ago, I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour, I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer is heard, and your gifts to the needy are remembered in the sight of God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and summon Simon, who is also called Peter. He is staying in the house of a tanner named Simon, by the seaside. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ 33 Therefore I sent to you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God to hear all things that have been commanded you by God.” 34 Peter opened his mouth and said, “Truly I perceive that God doesn’t show favouritism; 35 but in every nation he who fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him. 36 The word which he sent to the children of Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all—37 you yourselves know what happened, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of everything he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem; whom they also killed, hanging him on a tree. 40 God raised him up the third day and gave him to be revealed, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen before by God, to 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 this is he who is appointed by God as the Judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him, that through his name everyone who believes in him will receive remission of sins.” 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word. 45 They of the circumcision who believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was also poured out on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in other languages and magnifying God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Can anyone forbid these people from being baptised with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just like us.” 48 He commanded them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay some days. I just love Cornelius’s faith. He wasn’t a Jew, he wasn’t one of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, and yet, he knew God better than many of God’s own people did. He had faith so strong that he recognised the angel of the Lord who appeared to him, and he did exactly as he was told. He sent to Joppa for the man named Simon, who is called Peter. And when Peter arrived, he found a large crowd gathered and waiting for him. And Cornelius said to him in verses 30-33: 30 Cornelius said, “Four days ago, I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour, I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer is heard, and your gifts to the needy are remembered in the sight of God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and summon Simon, who is also called Peter. He is staying in the house of a tanner named Simon, by the seaside. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ 33 Therefore I sent to you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God to hear all things that have been commanded you by God.” I got goosebumps when I read the last sentence while preparing this talk. It just blew my mind how direct this man’s faith was, how powerful. He said, “God told me to send for you, so I did so at once, now here we are waiting on what God has commanded you to tell us.” Cornelius had no doubt that Peter was from God, and had no doubt that the words he was about to share were the Lord’s own words. And the proof of that is that they all believed, and the Holy Spirit came on all who heard Peter’s words, astounding the circumcised believers who had travelled with Peter. What stands out most to me about Cornelius’ faith is that he had faith like a child. Faith like a child Now, I don’t at all mean having a childish faith. When I think of the word childish, I think of petulant, immature, whiny. You know, all the negative things. But when I say faith like a child, I mean the positives. When children are young, they have faith that what they’re being told by their parents is true. And they accept it as the way the world is. They are teachable. Much more teachable than adults most of the time… As we grow up, we start to question everything. Some of us get very sceptical and somewhat cynical. No answer is accepted without a lot of proof to back it up. Especially if we don’t like the answer. If we don’t like it, then we want even more proof to back up why we should listen. We’re even more sceptical about what we’re being told. And unfortunately, we can take that into our faith. When we read the Bible and we come across something that makes us uncomfortable, sadly one of the first responses is to try find a way to change the meaning. We often try to talk ourselves out of what it means so that we don’t have to change our lives. “Oh, that passage doesn’t really apply because it was written 2000 years ago. Modern culture teaches us we should be doing this, instead.” And yes, there are a lot of cultural differences that need to be considered as we read the Bible. Understanding the culture it was written to will help us understand it better. Some things in scripture don’t apply to us because they were written to address specific cultural and social issues that we don’t deal with today. For example, when reading the Old Testament, particularly the purity laws that God gave Moses for the Israelites, by and large those are things we don’t need to follow today. As such, we don’t need to avoid bacon and lobster. We’re not sinning and unclean if we do eat it. Those laws to avoid those things were specific laws to a specific people to display God’s perfection and holiness by the perfection and holiness He expected of His people. The law demonstrated that no matter how hard anyone tried, they could never be perfect. It showed us how impossible it is to reach God’s perfect standard. After hundreds of years of living under that law, it should have been painfully obvious to the Israelites just how high a standard God had, and that all human effort would fall short, requiring sacrifices for sin again and again. All that so when Jesus came, and he lived a perfect, sinless life, it was clear that what he did was impossible by human standards. The only way he could have lived a sinless life was if he and God were one. And when the perfect, sinless Jesus died on the cross, he was the sacrifice for sin. The final sacrifice. Every single sin ever committed can be forgiven and washed away through the blood Jesus shed. We just gotta put our faith in Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God, and when we ask for forgiveness, when we repent of our sins, they will be forgiven. When Jesus came, he fulfilled the law. All those laws about purity no longer apply because they’ve served their purpose. They showed how impossible it was for us to satisfy God, and it showed our desperate need for a saviour. Jesus throughout his ministry brought the focus back to the ten commandments, which still stand today. If you want to know without a shadow of doubt what commands in the Bible apply to Christians of any period in history, read Jesus’ words. The point is that yes, we need to read God’s Word as the ultimate authority, and read it with humility and an openness to learn and change our lives to suit it, but we also need to read it with care and a desire to understand not just the words, but the context and culture. Because without that understanding, we can confuse what the Bible really means. If you want resources on how to study the Bible and understand the culture and context, you can head to Resources, I have a list of books there which can help. Back to today’s passage. God tells Peter not to call anything impure that God has made clean. Specifically God was referring to the Gentiles, who were seen as an impure people by Jews. Gentiles weren’t allowed to worship in the temple, they had to stay in the outer court because they were “unclean.” So when reading the Old Testament, we need to look at it through the lens of the New Testament and Jesus’ commandments—and he gave plenty. There’s more than enough to go on. The Old Testament points to Christ, and the New Testament demonstrates how Christ lived and how we should live, by following his example. Anything that Jesus taught applies throughout the ages. My point is this: when we’re reading the Bible, especially Jesus’ commandments, and we’re challenged in how we live and how we think… our first response should be to listen. To say, “Okay God. I’ll do that.” However, often our response is to find a way out of following God’s commands. That’s a very “adult” way of thinking about things. Question everything, even God’s word. Jesus had an interesting response to the disciples when they were arguing about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:1-4 (WEB): 1 In that hour the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” 2 Jesus called a little child to himself, and set him in the middle of them 3 and said, “Most certainly I tell you, unless you turn and become as little children, you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. 4 Whoever therefore humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus tells us that we need to become like little children to enter the kingdom of God. He tells us that we need to take the lowly position of a child to be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. In other words, we need to be humble and teachable, and understand who has authority—our father, God. When we read God’s word, we need to read it with the understanding that we’re reading… God’s word. We’re reading our Father’s instructions to us. As a kid, when our dad told us not to do something, that was it. We knew we weren’t supposed to do that. We might not have listened—I certainly didn’t a lot of the time. But I knew I wasn’t supposed to. And I also knew that he would discipline me if I didn’t. When we approach God’s word, we need to be humble and teachable. Our first response to uncomfortable passages shouldn’t be, “I need to find out why that doesn’t apply to me.” Rather it should be, “God says do this, I need to do this.” Now, I’m strictly talking about taking this attitude to God’s word—I’m not saying you should just accept what any pastor or Christian author/leader tells you. No, you need to take what I say and compare it with scripture, make sure what I’m saying is accurate. Only when we read God’s word, should we have utter humility and teachability. Don’t approach it seeing how you can make it fit your life. Approach it seeing how you can make your life fit it. That’s the reason Cornelius’ faith gives me goosebumps. Because he took God’s word, and he didn’t question it. He took it so seriously that he gathered all his friends and family with him and waited patiently for Peter, whom he knew would arrive soon because God had told him he would. And when Peter arrived, even though much of what Peter would say probably made them uncomfortable and they knew they had a lot to work on in their lives, they accepted his word with joy. They were teachable. They were humble. Conclusion So this week my challenge is one that builds off last week’s, which was to open our Bibles with reverence for God. Now, I want to add this challenge: when we sit down to read the Bible, read it with humility and a willingness to learn. Approach it with a desire to change our lives to suit the Bible, rather than to try to change the Bible to suit our lives. When we pick up the Bible, let’s have the same mindset we did as little children when we asked our parents what to do. When they gave us an answer, we knew that was what we should do. Maybe we didn’t always do it, but we knew what we should do, right? When we read the Bible, we should have the same mindset. When God gives us an answer in His Word… do it. Sometimes we’re far too quick to ignore what the Bible says because we think if it makes us uncomfortable, it can’t be true. All too often we want the Bible to fit our cultures. But the thing is, it never will. It will always be counter-cultural, because culture is by and large a product of the world, not of God. Even God’s chosen people, the Jews, had a culture that disgusted God. When Jesus came to earth, to Israel, he spent half his time flipping his peoples’ culture on its head and telling them they had completely ruined the commands his Father, God, had given them. How God calls us to live will not be comfortable and easy, and the world will hate us for trying to live that way. But… if our Father told us to live that way… let’s trust that He knows what is best for His children. Us. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct.The post Episode 19 Faith like a child first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
21 minutes | Jul 7, 2019
Episode 18 Almighty God
Do the wonders the Bible speak of leave you gasping for breath, in awe of God’s power, in tears at His mercy? For so many the answer is no. So where has our awe of God gone? Last week in episode 17 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast, we looked at how Paul after his conversion went out and preached the gospel as given to him by Jesus Christ. It was exactly the same gospel that Jesus gave his disciples. Paul lived his life like he believed God was real. And I challenged us, do we live like God is real? Do the decisions we make reflect that? Does the way we treat others reflect that? It’s so easy to instead of asking ourselves if our decisions will please God, instead say, “Well, I don’t think it’ll necessarily displease God…” It’s a subtle shift, but it has a big impact. Because instead of focusing on doing everything we can to please God, we’re instead trying to fit God into what we want to do. But if we know God’s power, if we’ve seen it in our lives, let’s live like we know that power. Today we’re continuing that theme as we look at an absolutely amazing passage about the Holy Spirit’s power. Our passage is Acts 9:32-43 (WEB): 32 As Peter went throughout all those parts, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years because he was paralysed. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed!” Immediately he arose. 35 All who lived at Lydda and in Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. 36 Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which when translated means Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and acts of mercy which she did. 37 In those days, she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 As Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. 39 Peter got up and went with them. When he had come, they brought him into the upper room. All the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the tunics and other garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter sent them all out, and knelt down and prayed. Turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and raised her up. Calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 This became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 He stayed many days in Joppa with a tanner named Simon. So the early church is experiencing a time of peace. After the insanity of the persecution at the beginning, finally there is some peace. One of the driving forces behind the persecution, Saul, has instead become one of the driving forces behind the gospel. Saul’s teacher, Gamaliel said that if the pharisees fought against the disciples and it turned out the disciples were from God, then they’d lose because they were fighting against God Himself. Saul, however, wasn’t as wise as his teacher and set out and started fighting against the disciples, and, surprise, he lost. Jesus struck him blind and confronted him with the truth that he’d been persecuting not just people, but the very God he claimed to follow. But now Saul has seen the truth—literally—and is preaching the good news of Jesus. And Peter, in that time of peace, is travelling the country and ministering to people. The Holy Spirit gave Peter an incredible gift. The gift of healing. That gift he used as he visited a paralysed man, Aeneas. After eight years as a bed ridden cripple, Peter visits and tells him to arise. Through the Holy Spirit’s power he does exactly that. The question that comes to my mind as I read this story is: Do we care? Do we care? Do we care that a man who for eight years had been paralysed, but now he’s standing and walking. Do we get excited by that? Or this morning as I read the passage did we get distracted and zone out for a moment? Did we yawn and think about another cup of coffee and how much we have to do later today? Did we think nothing of the fact that we just read the true story of a paralysed man being healed? And that was the boring part of the story. Because in the next verses, the Holy Spirit, through Peter, raised a woman from the dead! She was dead! Kicked the bucket! Chillin’ with Jesus! They weren’t in a room with an alive woman, they were in a room with a corpse! Take a moment to just think about that. Try imagine that happening today. I’m going to read the passage again in a moment, and this time, I want us to really, really dwell on the words, on just what Luke is telling us, on what God is doing here. And remember, this is the same God we follow today. We have the same Holy Spirit in us, okay? The Holy Spirit hasn’t lost its power over the centuries. I’ve heard stories from people I trust that miraculous healings and people being raised from the dead still happen today. I’ve had friends who overnight had broken bones completely reknit and when xrayed the next day, the doctor said, “Well, the old break has healed really well, but there’s no sign of a new break.” And I can tell you with certainty that his arm was definitely broken the previous day, and he had never had a broken arm before. His mother was a nurse and kept track of her childrens’ health. I’ve had friends who have had cracked skulls heal in days, an injury which should take months to heal. What happened here in Acts, it still happens. It happens because the God we follow is still just as powerful today as He was then. It happens because we can go to the creator of the universe with our prayers. It happens because we have the Holy Spirit, a part of God, dwelling in us. Remember that as we reread this passage. Acts 9:32-43 (WEB): 32 As Peter went throughout all those parts, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years because he was paralysed. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed!” Immediately he arose. 35 All who lived at Lydda and in Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. 36 Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which when translated means Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and acts of mercy which she did. 37 In those days, she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 As Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. 39 Peter got up and went with them. When he had come, they brought him into the upper room. All the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the tunics and other garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter sent them all out, and knelt down and prayed. Turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and raised her up. Calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 This became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 He stayed many days in Joppa with a tanner named Simon. How amazing is that! This wonderful woman of God, Tabitha, is raised from the dead! Our old sister in Christ, was raised from the dead! How many of us really believe that could happen today? How many of us believe we might one day witness something like that? I asked us last week to consider God’s power, I asked if we live like his power is real. Perhaps we say we do live like His power is real. But then we read passages like this today, passages that display His power, and we don’t feel anything. I’m ashamed to say that I don’t often get excited about reading about God’s power. I watch movies and read fiction that has me at times wanting to stand up and cheer. I read stories and watch movies which have me in tears. And yet I read the Bible and what do I feel? Often, not much. It’s just words. I read today’s passage half a dozen times this week as I was preparing for it. The first time I read it I didn’t feel a thing. I turned the page and continued reading. And that breaks my heart, because I know it’s not just me. Somehow, somewhere along the way, we’ve lost our reverence. We’ve lost our awe of God’s power. We’ve lost our fear of God. How many of us worry about disobeying God because we respect His power and authority so much that we fear Him? Fear Him in the same way we might fear being on a raging ocean, not because we hate it, but because it’s power is so far beyond us and we know in a moment’s notice we could be killed. Or being in the middle of a typhoon. We fear its power because we know it can destroy with ease, but we don’t necessarily hate it. It’s not evil. It’s just insanely powerful. God’s power is so far beyond the ocean, beyond a super typhoon. And not only does He have the power over life and death, but He has the power to condemn our eternal souls to damnation! Do we consider that and get goosebumps because that amount of power is so far beyond our understanding? I doubt it. Most of us probably barely even give it a second thought. Where is our fear and reverence of the God who created the universe? What happened to it? Why don’t we care? Why do we read stories like today and think nothing more of them. Most of us will probably go home and by the end of the day have forgotten what was even talked about. I know by next week the only reason I’ll remember what I talked about today is because I do the recap of the previous week at the start of each sermon. In a few weeks I’ll probably have forgotten. But I don’t want to! I want to be so in awe of God that I tremble when I consider His power, when I consider the fact that I can take my prayers to Him and He listens. Every word I say to Him, He hears. The God who created the universe. The universe! He hears us when we speak to Him! He loves us! Does that excite you? How many of us would get nervous if we had a chance to talk to the President of the United States? Or the Queen of England? Or the President of South Korea? Most of us would be a little nervous about meeting such powerful people. And yet we come before God and rattle off prayers without giving a second thought to who we’re talking to. The creator of the Universe. The God who right now is sustaining us and giving us breath in our lungs. Right now! That breath, that was from Him! And the most mind blowing thing? When we put our faith in His son, Jesus, God adopts us into His family! We become His children! We can go before the creator of the universe and call Him father! I challenged us last week to live like we know His power. But do we live like we know who our father is? If our dad was a famous celebrity, we’d be the coolest kids in school. “Wait, your dad played Captain America? That is so cool!” But our Dad, He’s just God. No biggie. He just created the entire universe from scratch in six days. To say it like that it sounds ridiculous! And yet that’s how we so often live, that’s how we so often act! Where is our pride in the wonders our father has done? Why aren’t we bragging about all the cool things Dad has done for us? Starting with giving us life! Conclusion In the hustle and bustle of life, we so quickly forget who our father is. We so quickly forget that Jesus defeated death. Defeated death. How do you even do that? Everyone dies, that’s just the way it goes. But Jesus defeated death. And so while yes, we will die, but at the resurrection, we’ll get life. Eternal life. Today we looked at a paralysed man walking, and a woman being raised from the dead. But at the resurrection, something far greater happens. We’ll come before God. And I promise you, there won’t be a single knee not trembling that day. Every single one of us will probably be terrified out of our minds. But if we’ve put our faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who left heaven to come to earth and die on the cross, paying the price for our sins and three days later was raised from the dead and defeated death. If our faith is in Jesus, we can have peace, because we’re not looking at the God we rejected in life. We’ll be looking at our father. Our father! Just think about that. Let that sink in. If we believe in Jesus, God is our father. What I want to challenge us to do this week is when we sit down to read the Bible, let what we read really sink in. Spend time pondering it, let ourselves be amazed by the wonders God does. Don’t just read the passage and close your Bible. Read. Reread. Read again. Ask God to make it real to you. Because everything we read in His word, happened. And events like we read about in Acts 9, they still happen today. Just because we don’t get news coverage on them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Jesus refused to do miracles for the Pharisees because when he did, they just plotted to kill him, or claimed he was the devil. Jesus did miracles for those who would recognise the power of God when they saw it. I believe the same is true today. The Holy Spirit does miracles in the lives of those it’ll impact, not to a sceptical world that will call his work a hoax. So instead of being cynical, sceptical believers who don’t bat an eyelid when we read stories of God’s power, let’s be believers so in awe of God that we tremble when we contemplate going before God in prayer. Let’s be believers whose hearts race when we pick up the Bible, His Word, and begin to read. Let’s be believers so in awe of who we get to call Father that we can’t help but get excited when we get the privilege of telling others about Him. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct.The post Episode 18 Almighty God first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
21 minutes | Jun 30, 2019
Episode 17 Do you live like God is real?
Do our actions show that we believe God is real? Or do they show that God is just a nice idea to us, something to do on a Sunday morning? Last week in episode 16 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast, we took another look at Saul’s conversion, but focused rather on the disciple Ananias. We had a look at the courage he needed to go and talk to a man who, so far as he knew, wanted to drag him off to prison. We saw that in the West we don’t often face talking to people about Jesus who want to kill us, rather, we face talking to friends and family about Jesus. And that can be terrifying. What if they hate us for talking about Jesus? What if we lose the friendship, their love, because of it? I challenged us to be willing to speak up, but also to relax. Relax because it’s not up to us how and when we tell our story of what Jesus did in our life, it’s up to the Holy Spirit. Our job is to get to know the Holy Spirit through time in God’s Word and prayer so we recognise when the Holy Spirit is prompting us to speak up. Our job is to simply open our mouths when the Holy Spirit prompts us to, He’ll give us the words we need when we need them. This can take so much pressure off because it becomes about God and His timing, not us and our timing, for which I’m grateful, because I’d say all the wrong things at all the wrong times. But we do need to be willing to speak up, because the reality is, for some of our friends and family, unless they put their faith in Jesus, the Son of God, they face hell. I, in all honesty, don’t want to think about that. I don’t want anyone I love to suffer that. And yet… I have to ask myself, do my actions show that? Because half the time, I’d rather stay silent because I don’t want to risk them disliking me for speaking up. This week, we’re looking at the question: Do we live like God is real? Our passage today is Acts 9:19b-31 (WEB): Saul stayed several days with the disciples who were at Damascus. 20 Immediately in the synagogues he proclaimed the Christ, that he is the Son of God. 21 All who heard him were amazed, and said, “Isn’t this he who in Jerusalem made havoc of those who called on this name? And he had come here intending to bring them bound before the chief priests!” 22 But Saul increased more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived at Damascus, proving that this is the Christ. 23 When many days were fulfilled, the Jews conspired together to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They watched the gates both day and night that they might kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall, lowering him in a basket. 26 When Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join himself to the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 He was with them entering into Jerusalem, 29 preaching boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus. He spoke and disputed against the Hellenists, but they were seeking to kill him. 30 When the brothers knew it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31 So the assemblies throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were built up. They were multiplied, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. So there’s a few things we miss about Saul’s journey here if we just read this passage in Acts. In verse 23, Luke tells us that “After many days had gone by. there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him.” We find out from Galatians 1:17-18 (WEB), that this attempt on his life actually took place three years after his conversion: 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia. Then I returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Peter, and stayed with him fifteen days. So Paul, still known as Saul at this point, stayed in Damascus for some time with the believers there, then headed to Arabia for a time. It’s also important to note that Saul didn’t spend time in Damascus learning about the gospel and learning from believers there about Jesus. In Galatians 1, he explains that God revealed himself to Saul. What Saul taught wasn’t from human origin, he wasn’t trying to please people, he was trying to win God’s approval. Nearly two decades after his conversion, Paul writes this letter to the churches in Galatia, explaining more about his conversion. This is really important stuff. Galatians 1:1-24 (WEB): 1 Paul, an apostle—not from men, nor through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers who are with me, to the assemblies of Galatia: 3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father—5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 6 I marvel that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ to a different “good news”, 7 but there isn’t another “good news.” Only there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the Good News of Christ. 8 But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you any “good news” other than that which we preached to you, let him be cursed. 9 As we have said before, so I now say again: if any man preaches to you any “good news” other than that which you received, let him be cursed. 10 For am I now seeking the favour of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? For if I were still pleasing men, I wouldn’t be a servant of Christ. 11 But I make known to you, brothers, concerning the Good News which was preached by me, that it is not according to man. 12 For I didn’t receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my way of living in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the assembly of God and ravaged it. 14 I advanced in the Jews’ religion beyond many of my own age amongst my countrymen, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through his grace, 16 to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him amongst the Gentiles, I didn’t immediately confer with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia. Then I returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Peter, and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 But of the other apostles I saw no one except James, the Lord’s brother. 20 Now about the things which I write to you, behold, before God, I’m not lying. 21 Then I came to the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was still unknown by face to the assemblies of Judea which were in Christ, 23 but they only heard, “He who once persecuted us now preaches the faith that he once tried to destroy.” 24 So they glorified God in me. What gospel do you believe? So Saul—also known as Paul—encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, he not only heard Jesus, but saw him. Ananias confirms this in Acts 9:17, Barnabas confirms this, Acts 9:27, and Paul himself confirms this, Acts 26:26. Paul saw Jesus. Jesus himself spoke to Paul and gave him his mission to go to the Gentiles. In Galatians 1, Paul explains that he had no desire to win human approval, if he did, there’s no way he’d be a servant of Christ! No, he wasn’t a servant of people, the gospel he preached didn’t come from people, either. It came directly from Jesus Christ! Now today, as we read these words, we can know that we’re not reading words from some guy who heard from his mate who said that his sister’s husband’s cousin’s son’s wife had seen Jesus alive after he was crucified! No, we’re reading words written by a man who had himself seen Jesus resurrected. Many of the books in the New Testament were written by men who knew Jesus personally. Paul, Peter, Matthew, John, James, all had personally spoken to Jesus after his resurrection. And nearly every single one of them died extremely painful deaths because of their faith in the Jesus Christ they personally knew. So… either the New Testament is written by a bunch of madmen willing to die for something they knew was a lie… or it was written by men who were so sure of what they had witnessed with their own eyes that death did not scare them, and they saw no need to win the approval of humans. They knew the power of God and sought only to win God’s approval. They didn’t die saying, “I believe something I was told!” They died saying, “I believe who I saw! I saw him die on the cross, I saw the spear pierce his side and blood pour out! And days later, I saw him alive! With a hole in his side and holes in his hands where the nails punctured him and held him to the cross!” There can be no middle ground. The New Testament isn’t a book by some wise guys who gave some good principles for living. It’s either a bunch of books written by raving lunatics who willingly suffered and died for a lie… Or it’s a bunch of books written by men who personally saw the Son of God. And Jesus himself, we can’t claim he’s just a wise person, like the Dalai Lama or someone. Jesus claimed to be God. That makes him either insane, a liar willing to suffer the most horrible death imaginable for his lie, or he is who he said he is. Jesus Christ, the Son of God. That he and God are one. So in our lives today, 2,000 years later, we need to decide: Do we believe Jesus is a lunatic, a liar, or the Lord? The Apostles all knew he was the Lord, not because someone told them so, but because they saw with their own eyes. They went to the grave in incredible pain and suffering, praising Jesus Christ, the God they knew to be real. If they had any doubt about Jesus’ sanity, or if he was telling the truth, or that they actually saw him die and then walking around days later, there’s no way on earth that they would have died for him. The start of Paul’s ministry was so incredible because he was a powerful Jew, rising quickly amongst the ranks of Pharisees and would quickly have gained a position of great prestige amongst them, especially if he continued his path of trying to destroy the Christian church. Paul had no worldly incentive to put his faith in Jesus. In life, Paul had everything. But on that road to Damascus, Paul encountered a truth so real, so terrifying, that it changed his life forever. He encountered face-to-face, the resurrected Jesus. So when he began his ministry for Jesus, he didn’t begin by rehashing something taught to him by others, he taught Jesus Christ himself. And the amazing thing about this is… when he finally got to Jerusalem three years after his conversion and spent 15 days with Peter and James, his theology was perfect. He hadn’t spent three years studying under Jesus, yet what he taught, was exactly what Jesus taught, and Paul tells us that he didn’t learn that from men, he learned that from Jesus. Peter and James accepted what Paul told them, and they trusted the word of a dear friend, Barnabas, that yes, Paul was the real deal. He wasn’t lying. And let me ask you this, if Paul was lying about where he learned about Jesus, if Paul was lying and in actual fact, everything he taught he learned from men, why was he willing to suffer for decades for it and eventually die because of it? Would you seriously be willing to die for something that you know is a lie? I wouldn’t. I mean, maybe I’d die for a lie if I knew sticking to that lie would keep others alive. Like some in Germany in WWII who lied about knowing where any Jews were. But I wouldn’t die just to keep a human’s reputation in tact, to keep their lies from being found out. Today, here and now, I’m not just talking about words from a dusty old book. I’m here because I’ve encountered Jesus. Now, I’m not saying I’ve seen Jesus, I haven’t. All I’m saying I’ve seen his power in my life. I’ve seen the Holy Spirit at work in my life. I’ve seen how my life has changed in ways that don’t make sense. Time and again I’ve seen things happen in my life that I can’t explain by human means. I’ve seen prayers answered in spectacular ways—sometimes it’s almost creepy how accurately the prayers have been answered, and how quickly. I don’t talk about some nice idea I read about in the Bible. I talk about the God I know is real because I’ve experienced Him. And that brings me to the question I asked at the beginning: Do we live like God is real? If we say we’re Christian, we need to decide for ourselves, do we follow God because we believe He’s real? Because we’ve experienced the power of His Holy Spirit? Or do believe in Him because that’s what someone told us to believe? If you follow God because you’ve experienced His power in your life, then my challenge to you is this: Do you live like He is real? When we look at Paul in Acts 9, he faced death not once, but twice, within the space of a few verses. And he never stopped preaching the Good News of Jesus. He clearly lived like he knew that who he had seen on the road to Damascus was Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God. He lived, suffered, and died for Jesus, because he knew the power of God, and he sought only to win God’s approval. Do we seek to win God’s approval with our life? Or do we say we believe in Jesus, but our actions show we really just want the approval of our friends, our family, our coworkers, our classmates? If we’ve put our faith in Jesus Christ because we truly believe His power and we’ve seen the Holy Spirit at work in our lives… the number one question we should be asking ourselves when we face decisions in life is this, “Will this please God?” So often our actions show that that’s not the first question we ask, it comes after, “Will this take care of me?” “Will this take care of my family?” “Will this make me look good to my coworkers?” “Will this make me happy?” So often, instead of asking, “Will this please God?” We instead say, “Well, I don’t think it’ll displease him…” But is that good enough for God? If we know God’s power, let’s live like we know God’s power. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct.The post Episode 17 Do you live like God is real? first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
28 minutes | Jun 23, 2019
Episode 16 One Awkward Moment
Are you prepared to take one awkward moment to tell others your story of what Jesus did in your life? Last week in episode 15 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast, we witnessed the incredible conversion of Saul when he encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. In one moment, Saul’s life was turned upside down, and he realised something incredibly painful. He realised that in his zeal to serve God, he was actually fighting against God, he was attempting to destroy God’s church. When he discovered the truth, he immediately stopped and instead started preaching the good news of Jesus. But I suspect that the harm Saul had caused others would stick with him until the day he died. Even knowing he had forgiveness I don’t think would have erased the pain. This week, we’re actually going to stay on the same passage, because I didn’t feel I could move on without talking about Ananias. Our passage is Acts 9:10-19 (WEB): 10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias!” He said, “Behold, it’s me, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judah for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus. For behold, he is praying, 12 and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he did to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 Here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go your way, for he is my chosen vessel to bear my name before the nations and kings, and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” 17 Ananias departed and entered into the house. Laying his hands on him, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord, who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he received his sight. He arose and was baptised. 19 He took food and was strengthened. Saul stayed several days with the disciples who were at Damascus. So Ananias, living his life in Damascus, worrying about the arrival of a Pharisee named Saul who was on a mission to destroy the Christian church. Doubtless he and the other believers in Damascus were desperately praying that God would save them from the hand of Saul. But as Ananias is praying for God to save them from Saul, I doubt he imagined just how God would save them. Then finally, Saul arrives in Damascus. Word quickly gets around that he was led into the city like a blind man! God had answered the Damascene believers’ prayers! There’s no way Saul could go about arresting people if he was blind. I can imagine as word filtered throughout the city that there was great rejoicing. And then God calls to Ananias in a vision. “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for Saul from Tarsus, I’ve sent him a vision of a man named Ananias coming to restore his sight.” There was no room for confusion in God’s order. God was talking about the Saul, the Saul persecuting unto death people who believed in Jesus. I can well imagine Ananias’s legs getting weak and him sinking to the ground thinking, “No way. Not Saul. I can’t talk to Saul about Jesus, he’ll arrest me, and I know what happens to the people he arrests… they die!” Imagine Ananias’s fear as God tells him to go talk to Saul. This isn’t just talking to a stranger, this is talking to a man bent on seeing you and your Christian brothers and sisters killed! I admire Ananias’s courage though, that he only objected once to God’s command before he went. He learned a lot faster than Moses had when God told Moses to go speak to Pharaoh. The reason I wanted to focus on Ananias today though, is to say this: If we live for Jesus, there will come a time when God calls us to share the gospel with someone we don’t want to share the gospel with. There’ll come a time when He commands us to speak up about Him despite our fear of talking about Him to that person. But… the person we’re scared to talk to about Jesus isn’t always a “bad guy.” Sometimes, they’re our family. Sometimes, they’re our closest friend. In the West, we don’t often deal with talking to people who are out to kill us because of our faith, rather, our biggest challenge is talking to friends and family about Jesus. In the West, we don’t fear death for our faith, we fear ridicule, rejection, scorn. We fear losing people we care about because we talked to them about Jesus. I get the shakes and feel nauseas when I think about sharing the gospel with certain people I know. I fear losing their friendship, I fear losing their love, their respect. I’d rather leave it to someone else to tell them, that way they can hate them, not me. And yet… I have to ask myself this question. Is keeping quiet about the gospel really loving them? If you’ve given your life to Jesus, then you know what you were saved from. You were saved from an eternity in hell, separated from God. You were saved from an eternity of pain, all because of what Jesus did on the cross when he died and rose again, taking the penalty for our sin. Our friends and family who don’t know Jesus, they face that. Unless they put their trust in Jesus as the Son of God and repent… that eternity in hell is what’s in store for them when they die. If you haven’t put your faith in Jesus, that’s what you face. I don’t want anyone to face that! I wouldn’t wish that on someone I hate. And yet… I gotta ask myself… do I really mean that if I’m willing to let someone I love spend eternity in hell because I don’t want to feel uncomfortable talking about Jesus, because I don’t want to risk losing their friendship/love? Often we’re happy to share the gospel if it’s convenient or easy. It’s one thing to make a Facebook status about Jesus—and hope those we care about who don’t know him read it and are impacted—but it’s a completely different matter to talk to them directly. However, talking to them directly is what we need to be willing to do. If you have a friend who you know can’t swim but they’re going white water rafting without life jackets (not gonna happen, but bear with me for the sake of the analogy), you wouldn’t just post a link on Facebook to a YouTube video about swimming and hope they saw it before they went rafting. No, if you really wanted to make sure they’d be safe, you’d talk to them and say, “Hey, I’m worried about you going rafting without knowing how to swim. Can I teach you some basics?” Which would show them you cared more? The video posted with the hope they might see? Or the direct contact and expressed concern and love? Of course, we can’t control if they respond with scorn to what we say. We can’t control whether they laugh at us and mock us for offering to teach them to swim. They’ll be in a raft! There’s no need to learn how to swim. They won’t like what we say unless they realise they need saving too, just like we did. I didn’t like hearing the gospel until I realised just how badly messed up I was and how desperately I needed Jesus. It took me a while to realise I even needed saving, I thought I was fine. Don’t panic! In the wise words of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy… “Don’t panic!” See, when we really start to consider the reality of heaven and hell, and what that means to those we love who don’t know Jesus, it can be easy to give ourselves panic attacks over trying to find every moment to talk about Jesus. We can stress ourselves out over-analysing every conversation and trying to work out the perfect moment to speak about what Jesus has done. And that leads us to missing half of what they’re saying in conversations, and giving the impression that we don’t actually care about them, we just care about what we have to say. Not good. So no, I’m not saying go right now and find your friend/family member who doesn’t believe in Jesus and tell them about Jesus! I’m not saying that if you don’t you don’t love them. That’s not at all what I mean. Rather, what I’m saying is this: Are we willing to face a bit of shame, an awkward moment, or possible rejection in order to share what Jesus has done in our life? That’s a hard, hard question to think about. However, being willing to speak up is, I believe, the hardest step. The next step is much easier. Waiting on the Holy Spirit Once we’re willing to face the awkward moments and the possible rejection, we don’t need to go out and try to squeeze Jesus into every conversation. Having a conversation about coffee? Hmmm. How can I tie that into the gospel… Oh, maybe Jesus’ love is like that first sip of coffee in the morning! No, we don’t need to do that. All we need to do is be ready when the Holy Spirit prompts us. If you don’t know what that looks like, that’s okay. As you spend time building your relationship with God through study of His Word and prayer, you’ll become familiar with what the Holy Spirit’s prompting feels like. You can ask God to show you. Remember, God wants us to serve Him, when we eagerly desire to follow Him, He will guide us. For me, the Holy Spirit’s prompting is a building pressure inside that I can’t fully explain. It’s a feeling that if I don’t speak now, it’ll be too late. And that continues to build until either I open my mouth and start talking, or I ignore it and the moment is gone. If I ignore it then I’m left with a profound sense of disappointment, like I let someone down, big time. The reason I say this is less stressful than trying to work out the perfect words to say in every single conversation is this: It’s not up to us. Now, perhaps to some who are chronic planners who have to have everything decided ahead of time letting go of control here is stressful. If that’s the case, it’s stressful because we’re trying to do someone else’s job. It’s like hopping on a plane and sitting in the exit row seat and being stressed because we don’t know how to fly it or when to open the emergency exit. Instead, we should relax because the pilots know what they’re doing, and so do the stewards. They’ll tell us what to do, they’ll instruct us if and when we need to open the door, we just sit back and enjoy the flight. The point is this: It’s not our job to find the right moment or the right words, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job, and if we trust him, he will guide us. Luke 12:11-12 (NIV): 11“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” See, when we try to do all the work, come up with the words, come up with the right time, we miss something far more important. We miss God’s perfect timing and knowledge of our hearts, and the heart of the person we’re talking to. We can actually say the wrong thing when we try to plan out the perfect response and stick to that no matter what. It’d be like charging into the cockpit of the plane and trying to take over flying it. Or opening the emergency exit when we think best, instead of waiting to be instructed when. Neither will go well, and chances are we’ll do more damage than good. When people accused the disciples of being drunk at 9am in Acts 2 after they received the Holy Spirit, Peter had had no time to prepare a fantastic sermon, he’d had no time to put together all his arguments and pleas, he felt the Holy Spirit’s prompting and opened his mouth. What he did have, was three years focused study with Jesus. He had the knowledge in his head, but he had no chance to plan what to share. By his nature, he was an impetuous man who when he spoke, often said foolish things, things which had Jesus rebuking him time and again. He wasn’t an eloquent man with well thought out arguments planned in advance. And yet when he spoke on that day, the words that came out of his mouth led to 3,000 people being saved. All that because Peter was willing to do one thing: Open his mouth when the Holy Spirit prompted him. Peter had no way of knowing what those 3,000 people needed to hear, all he knew was that Jesus had told them to not to worry about what to say, the Holy Spirit would guide his words. He trusted that. And boy oh boy did the Holy Spirit use his boldness! See, the thing is, we can’t plan the perfect words. We can’t plan the perfect time, either. Because we have no idea what that person is needing. We don’t know their heart. But God does. God and Jesus are flying the plane, and the Holy Spirit is back with us guiding us every step of the way, we just have to listen! And to me, that takes so much pressure off! All I need to do is show up and be willing! Willing to speak up when I feel that pressure I know is the Holy Spirit’s prompting. What comes next is up to the Holy Spirit. It’ll probably be clumsy, awkward, uncomfortable, and I’ll spend the next few years overthinking it and wishing I said something different, I could have done so much better if I could just have written some notes first! But… we need to trust that what we did say, what the Holy Spirit led us to say, was what those we love needed to hear. This isn’t a one sided event When the Holy Spirit prompts us to speak up, it’s because He’s already been at work in that person’s life, preparing them to hear what we have to say. When God told Ananias to go speak to Saul, God was already preparing Saul to hear Ananias. When Jesus spoke to a rich man who wanted to follow him in Luke 18, and Jesus told him to sell everything and give it to the poor, that rich man went away very sad. Why? Because God was already at work in his life, and he realised the true cost of following Jesus, giving up everything. That terrified him. But he heard it. If he wasn’t ready to hear that, he would have gone away scornful, or treated Jesus like the Pharisees and teachers of the law did, with mocking. No, the rich man was saddened because he knew it was true but didn’t want to accept it yet. Jesus knew what he needed to hear because he knew how God had been softening the man’s heart. The same is true when the Holy Spirit prompts us to speak up, he’s also been at work in who we’re speaking to. And even though our words come out clunky and awkward and we wish we could have said things better… The Holy Spirit can still use those words. It’s also not our responsibility to change hearts, that’s not up to us. All we can do is be a witness in both our actions and our words to Jesus. We may never hear the result of the few words we share when prompted by the Holy Spirit to speak up. It may seem like those words fell on deaf ears, and we may never know what stuck in their heart. What they thought over day and night. Or even what they forgot until years later when someone else says or does something and those words we spoke come again to mind. The author and pastor Francis Chan is in ministry today and God is using him to impact thousands of lives because over sixty years ago, two Chinese guys in a Communist country that frowns on Christianity invited Francis’ dad when he was a kid to play basketball with them. They showed him love by inviting him to join them doing something he loved, and they shared the gospel with him. They never saw him again. They probably don’t even know that he went on to have a son whom he raised to love God. A son who grew to be an incredible witness to Jesus in the West. We just need to be willing to speak. What happens next is not up to us, it’s out of our control and we need to let go of our desire to be in control. We need to relax We don’t need to orchestra anything, God’s already got it under control! We don’t need to fret and worry about what to say and when to say anything. We don’t have to feel guilty about not filling every conversation with words about Jesus. All we need to do is be willing. Be willing to speak up, then when the Holy Spirit prompts us, open our mouths. When it comes up in conversation, don’t run away from the topic. Be bold, let the Holy Spirit do the talking through us. And let those words be backed up by a life lived in honour of God. Let those words be backed up by actions that match what we say. To me that’s a huge weight off my shoulders, knowing it’s not up to me to save anyone. I just have to show up and speak up when called to. So that’s my challenge this week. Be willing to speak up when God calls you to. Is our love for our friends and our family so great that we’re willing to face an awkward situation, possible scorn, maybe rejection? That’s not easy, but seeing someone we love give their life to Christ? Knowing they have eternal life? That’s worth it. When I was finishing writing this message and editing it, a song by Casting Crowns started playing that I hadn’t heard before. I believe it was a God thing because the song perfectly summed up what God put on my heart to speak about. That song is called One Awkward Moment, you can listen to it here. One Awkward Moment, was inspired by a discussion Mark Hall, their lead singer, had at a youth Bible Study. This was taken from a Billboard interview with Mark Hall: “We were talking about sharing our story with people. Your story is who you were before you met Jesus, what happened when you met Jesus and what’s life been since you’ve met Jesus. That’s your story and we should all as believers be able to tell our own story,” Hall says. “We were talking about how there is something that gets in our head right before we share the gospel with somebody that tells us, ‘You are just about to blow this. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re not a smart enough Christian. You’re not a good enough Christian. Just keep your mouth shut,’ especially when they are friends. When it’s somebody we love, we’re scared to do it.” While discussing it with the group, the nucleus of the song began forming. “This is what happens with songs,” Hall sighs. “I didn’t plan to say it. It just came out. I said, ‘The people that you love, if you really do love them, they are worth one awkward moment.’ Aren’t they? Aren’t they worth one awkward moment, just pushing through and saying, Look I love you, but you’ve got to know that I’m praying for you. I’ll tell you right now, I’ll be the biggest train wreck in heaven but God loves me and I know he loves you, and if he can save me, I know he can save you.'” Hall looked at the teenagers in the Bible study and could tell he was striking a nerve. “Teenagers tend to look at the ground a lot, but I saw heads come up when I said that,” he recalls. “I knew this is something that needs to said and it’s probably the strangest song title I’ve ever had,” he laughs. “When people saw the title and hadn’t heard the song they were like, ‘One Awkward Moment?’ What is THAT about’? I think it could be a movement of just saying, ‘Hey what if you just took three minutes of courage and just shared the gospel with somebody you love? What would happen?'” Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.The post Episode 16 One Awkward Moment first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
19 minutes | Jun 16, 2019
Episode 15 The risen Christ and a man named Saul
What does it take for God to get our attention? Last week in episode 14 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast, we looked at Philip as God called him to leave his successful ministry and travel into the wilderness. We looked at how sometimes in our lives, God calls us to leave success and go into the unknown, and we need to trust Him and have the courage to follow. We also saw that sometimes God calls our friends and/or family to leave their success and follow Him into the unknown. We looked at how we need to encourage those people to follow God. And if they come to us for advice, make sure our desire is for them to honour God no matter what, even if it means we’ll miss them like crazy. Today, we’re going to look at how Jesus’ resurrection completely changed one man’s life, how it turned him from a man determined to destroy Christianity and everything it stood for into one of the most powerful voices in our Bibles today. Our passage today is Acts 9:1-19 (WEB): 1 But Saul, still breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 As he travelled, he got close to Damascus, and suddenly a light from the sky shone around him. 4 He fell on the earth, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He said, “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise up and enter into the city, then you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men who travelled with him stood speechless, hearing the sound, but seeing no one. 8 Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened, he saw no one. They led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. 9 He was without sight for three days, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias!” He said, “Behold, it’s me, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judah for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus. For behold, he is praying, 12 and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he did to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 Here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go your way, for he is my chosen vessel to bear my name before the nations and kings, and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” 17 Ananias departed and entered into the house. Laying his hands on him, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord, who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he received his sight. He arose and was baptised. 19 He took food and was strengthened. Saul stayed several days with the disciples who were at Damascus. This is truly one of the most amazing conversions we see in the Bible—in my opinion. It’s so incredible because of Saul’s history. See, Saul was a Hebrew of Hebrews, from the tribe of Benjamin, about as Jewish as you could get. He was born in Tarsus, a Roman state, which earned him Roman citizenship from birth. In his early years he trained beneath a well known Pharisee’s of his day, Gamaliel. Gamaliel himself was a Pharisee from the school of Hillel and his followers were a group of Pharisees known for their openness and generosity—we saw that attitude come into play in Acts 5 when Gamaliel spoke to the chief priests and advised them to let the disciples go. So Saul was trained to be open and generous. And yet in his youth and enthusiasm, he turned aside from that openness and instead began a vicious, and systematic attempt to destroy Christianity. Saul knew all about Jesus, he knew that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, he knew that Jesus had been crucified, and he knew that people claimed that Jesus had risen from the dead. But no doubt, he also believed that Jesus’ disciples had taken Jesus’ body and hidden it. Saul had every piece of information he needed in order to know that Jesus was who he claimed to be, the Son of God. He grew up with passages like this one, Isaiah 53 (WEB), written hundreds of years before Jesus left heaven and came to earth: 1 Who has believed our message? To whom has the LORD’s arm been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no good looks or majesty. When we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering and acquainted with disease. He was despised as one from whom men hide their face; and we didn’t respect him. 4 Surely he has borne our sickness and carried our suffering; yet we considered him plagued, struck by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought our peace was on him; and by his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray. Everyone has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he didn’t open his mouth. As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he didn’t open his mouth. 8 He was taken away by oppression and judgement. As for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living and stricken for the disobedience of my people? 9 They made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him. He has caused him to suffer. When you make his soul an offering for sin, he will see his offspring. He will prolong his days and the LORD’s pleasure will prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light and be satisfied. My righteous servant will justify many by the knowledge of himself; and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion with the great. He will divide the plunder with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death and was counted with the transgressors; yet he bore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors. This passage is a prophecy all about Jesus. He was born in humble circumstances, no outward beauty to attract people to him. He was rejected by mankind and grew up familiar with pain. And yet he took our pain on the cross, he bore our suffering, and as he did so, the world considered him punished by God. The Jews believed he was a blasphemer and that God was punishing him. But no, he was pierced for our sin. He was crushed for our wrongs. He was punished so we might have peace. He was punished so that by his wounds, we might be healed. And we need that healing, we need that peace, because every single one of us has gone astray. Every single man, woman and child on earth has gone astray and needs rescuing. Jesus did that on the cross for us, he took the punishment that we rightly deserve to pay, and said we don’t have to. The price for our sins has been paid, all we need to do is put our faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and repent. Even the tomb he’d be buried in was listed in this prophecy. A tomb of the wicked—meaning a tomb belonging first to someone else, not a tomb made just for Jesus, the only person to ever live who wasn’t wicked. The Holy Spirit also revealed to Isaiah that the tomb would belong to a rich person. And indeed, this was 100% accurate. Matthew 27:57 records that a rich man named Joseph from Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body in order to bury him, and he buried him in his own tomb, the tomb of a sinful man. The tomb of a rich man. Isaiah continues and writes that after Jesus has suffered, he would rise again. He would see the light of life and be satisfied. Death could not hold him. Saul grew up with that passage, one of many that speak of Jesus. But despite all that knowledge of the Old Testament, despite having passages prophesying Jesus life and death, Saul didn’t see it. He was blind to the truth. As a Jew, he was awaiting the Messiah to save them from Rome’s oppression. But he failed to see when the Messiah had arrived. He failed to see the Son of God Isaiah spoke of in Isaiah 52 and 53. Until… Until he travelled one day to Damascus. As he neared Damascus, ready to arrest every man and woman he could find who followed Jesus, a bright light from heaven flashed around him, overwhelming him. Then a voice demanded to know why he was persecuting him. Saul was a man who strove to follow God, he’d spent his life seeking to honour God. He knew that this voice was from above, this voice was divine. And yet… the voice said Saul was persecuting him? Wait, no he wasn’t. Saul wasn’t persecuting God, or believers in God, he was persecuting blasphemers! So he thought… Then the voice said something which would remain etched into Saul’s memory until the day he died. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” On his way to arrest followers of Jesus, Saul is confronted by a blinding light and a voice he knows is divine… And that voice informs him that He’s Jesus. The Jesus whom Saul was fighting so hard against. The Jesus whom Saul believed was dead and buried. The Jesus whom Saul believed was definitely NOT God. In that moment on the ground on a dusty road, Saul’s life shatters. In that moment, Saul begins to realise that he’s made a horrible, horrible mistake. He begins to realise that what he believed he was doing for God, was actually against God. Try to imagine that. Imagine spending your entire life believing what you were doing was helping people, that you were always doing the right thing… then you find out, that no, everything you’ve done in life only ever hurt people. You find out that instead of being the good guy, you’re the bad guy. That idea makes me sick, I don’t want to be the bad guy! It made Saul sick, too, and as he stood up, he opened his eyes and realised he was blind. He had always been blind. He’d had the gospel of Jesus right in front of him with the Old Testament. He’d grown up studying the very books that God gave the world to point to His Son, Jesus, and yet had never seen the truth right before him. He’d thought himself a man of great spiritual insight, understanding, and zeal. But he wasn’t. He was blind. And now he was physically blind, too. Those with him had heard the sound, but hadn’t seen anyone. There was no man hiding behind a bush speaking to Saul. It truly was a voice from heaven, the voice of the risen Son of God. Saul’s companions led him by the hand to Damascus, and there he stayed for three days in darkness. He didn’t eat or drink a thing, doubtless overcome by grief and torment as the weight of his actions sank in. But God wasn’t done with him. This wasn’t the end for Saul, and indeed, his life would be full of hardship, he would suffer more than the countless Christians he had persecuted had suffered. And while Saul sat in darkness, God was at work in a man named Ananias. God came to Ananias in a vision and told Ananias where Saul was, and told him to go lay hands on him to restore his sight. Man, Ananias did not like that news. He knew exactly who this Saul was! Why heal him? Why not let him stay blind, the murderous monster! But God said, “Nope, gotta go see him. He’s my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” And so Ananias did. Saul had seen in a vision that a man named Ananias was going to come, and then, through his door walks a man named Ananias who says, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” After this, Saul has no room at all to deny Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that Jesus is alive and well. Now, after a life of denial, Saul sees the truth. The light had been switched on and it all makes sense. The passages like Isaiah 53 suddenly made sense to Saul and he could see that the prophet didn’t speak of some mysterious Messiah still to arrive. Isaiah spoke of a man Saul had seen, Jesus. In just three days, Saul’s life was turned completely upside down. And that’s exactly what the Holy Spirit does, turns our lives upside down. Crazy things happen when the Holy Spirit is involved. Conclusion My challenge for us today is this: What does it take for God to get our attention? If you’ve already given your life to God, what does it take for Him to get your attention and get you to focus on where He wants to lead you in life? If you don’t know Jesus, what will it take for you to see what He did for you on the cross, what he did for you when he rose three days later defeating death? Can you see that he’s already paid the price for every wrong, every mistake, every sin you’ve ever done in your life? All you need to do is accept that, repent and ask him for forgiveness, and put your faith in him as the Holy and Perfect Son of God. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct.The post Episode 15 The risen Christ and a man named Saul first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
27 minutes | Jun 9, 2019
Episode 14 Some God calls to leave, some God calls to stay
Has God called you to leave a successful life or ministry to follow Him? Has He asked those you love to leave successful lives and ministries to follow Him? Today we’ll look at what the Bible has to say about leaving. Last week in episode 13 of the God’s word, Today’s World podcast, we looked at one man’s desire for a gift of the Holy Spirit, but his motives were evil. He desired the gift for his own glory and gain. But we also saw that we should desire gifts of the Spirit, but we should desire them to build up the church, to support Christian brothers and sisters. Today we’re going to look at how when we follow God, He orchestrates events that should be impossible. Events so coincidental we’d struggle to believe them if they didn’t happen to us. Our passage today is Acts 8:26-40 (WEB): 26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise, and go towards the south to the way that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is a desert.” 27 He arose and went; and behold, there was a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was over all her treasure, who had come to Jerusalem to worship. 28 He was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 The Spirit said to Philip, “Go near, and join yourself to this chariot.” 30 Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He said, “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” He begged Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture which he was reading was this, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter. As a lamb before his shearer is silent, so he doesn’t open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation, his judgement was taken away. Who will declare His generation? For his life is taken from the earth.” 34 The eunuch answered Philip, “Who is the prophet talking about? About himself, or about someone else?” 35 Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture, preached to him about Jesus. 36 As they went on the way, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Behold, here is water. What is keeping me from being baptised?” 37 * 38 He commanded the chariot to stand still, and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptised him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, and the eunuch didn’t see him any more, for he went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip was found at Azotus. Passing through, he preached the Good News to all the cities, until he came to Caesarea. * 8:37 TR adds Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” He answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So Philip had been preaching in a city in Samaria for some time, but now the Holy Spirit had a new mission for him. One which would spread the gospel all the way to Ethiopia. But Philip didn’t know that yet. He was in the middle of a highly successful ministry in Samaria. The Holy Spirit was so powerfully at work in Samaria that Peter and John themselves travelled to Philip to support the ministry there. Now, many of us if we were in the middle of a ministry that was clearly growing would be reluctant to leave. Why would we leave if God was obviously at work? Aren’t we supposed to jump on board with what God’s doing? Yet here, an Angel of the Lord told Philip to go, take a long and dusty walk down a desert road, days away from where he probably was in Samaria. If that was me, I would be scratching my head and saying, “Are you sure, God? Things are going really well here but you want me to head out into the wilderness? There’s nothing out there but wild animals and dirt. Can’t very well preach to them…” How many of us would try to just stay where we were? I know I wouldn’t be inclined to leave a growing ministry, one that God was clearly blessing. And indeed, I felt exactly that way just weeks after I originally wrote this message. God called me and my wife to the States, so we’re leaving a growing church on Saipan to go and do I don’t know what. That scares me, but Brittany and I are also very clear that it’s where God is leading us, so go we are. We chose to be like Philip, who said, “Okay, I’m gonna trust you.” And off he went, leaving behind his successful ministry and walking out into the desert. Can you imagine the amount of faith Philip must have needed to make this decision? Not only did he need to be certain in his own mind that this was where God was leading him, but he’d also likely have faced opposition from believers in Samaria. Those also doing ministry with him. I imagine he had people around him who couldn’t understand why he was “abandoning” a powerful ministry that he’d started to go walk into the desert. He didn’t even have a plan! He was just going to walk! I can easily imagine the conversation. “Where are you going, Philip?” “Gaza, I think. Maybe. I’m taking that road, anyway.” “Why?” “I dunno. God told me I needed to go that way.” “Are you sure, Philip? Maybe you imagined it? Why would God tell you to leave this ministry? It’s going so well!” “I know, I know. But… I just have to go. Now. Okay?” “Come on, Philip, we need you here. You’re doing amazing work and heaps of people are getting saved. Just stay, at least until we can find someone to replace you.” “Guys, please! God is leading me elsewhere. I need to go.” “Well, I’m praying too, and I don’t believe God is telling you to leave.” “I’m going now, guys. Take it up with God if you have anything more to say.” Now, this conversation is of course speculation, I have no idea whether Philip faced anything like this. I certainly hope he didn’t, however, I’m not just making this kind of conversation up, they happen today. I’ve faced this kind of conversation from other believers about ministries God has pushed me to pursue—though I’ve not faced this conversation about moving to the States, for which I’m thankful. I know other believers who have had these same conversations when they told their family, church and friends that God was leading them somewhere else. I know people who have faced ridicule from Christians over ministries they’ve felt God leading them to. One family in particular I know faced so much pressure from church and family—even a pastor they trusted—to stay when they knew they should go that they chose to stay. Staying was not what God wanted them to do, and the result was an incredibly miserable year as they were stuck in a bad situation. No one won. God was wrapping up their ministry in that place and moving them to a new one and when they didn’t go where God was pushing them, their ministry still ended, and the pastor who wanted them to stay and continue ministering still didn’t get what he wanted. There are two parts to this that I want to focus in on today. We need to have the courage to leave when God calls us. We need to have the courage to let others leave when God calls them. 1. We need to have the courage to leave when God calls us One of the hardest times to move in life is when we’re in the midst of success. Whether it’s success in our job, success in our ministry, success in raising family, success in college. It goes against our nature to abandon a good thing in favour of the unknown. But throughout scripture God constantly calls people to abandon the known and comfortable to follow Him into the wilderness, into the unknown In today’s passage, God called Philip to leave Samaria and the highly successful ministry he had there and take a lonely road toward Gaza. To anyone looking on, this would seem insane. To Philip it probably even seemed kinda crazy. But he trusted that God knew what He was doing. So he went. He went prepared to give the gospel to whomever God led him to. It wasn’t until days into his journey alone that he came upon a chariot carrying an Ethiopian… who just so happened at that exact moment to be reading a prophecy about Jesus. If that’s not a God-ordained moment I don’t know what is. And not only was this Ethiopian reading Isaiah, but he was also desperate to understand it, so when the Holy Spirit prompted Philip to speak up and offer to explain it, the Ethiopian was thrilled. Now, the reason this Ethiopian was in Jerusalem was likely because he was searching for the truth, he was searching for Jesus. He’d travelled hundreds of miles to be here, he obviously had great trust and support from the queen of the Ethiopians to take such a long pilgrimage. Perhaps this queen was also seeking the truth and she had entrusted this task to the official. Regardless of his purpose, this Ethiopian was an incredibly important person in the Ethiopian government. He wasn’t just some person travelling. He was in charge of all the treasury of the queen of the Ethiopians. So Philip was in the right place at the right time because he was willing to follow God. And now he had an opportunity to share the gospel with this man. This is an example of why it’s so important that we study scripture. The over-arching theme of Scripture is to point to what Jesus did on the cross. Philip knew this, he knew the Old Testament so well that he knew which passage the man was reading and was able to explain how it related to Jesus, and explain ultimately what Jesus did on the cross just weeks ago. During the Ethiopian’s stay in the region, he doubtless heard rumours about this Jesus person, now Philip was able to explain what happened using a book written hundreds of years ago. We need to know God’s word well enough that we can do the same, that we can explain the gospel clearly to others when the opportunity arises. But it’s not just about having the knowledge, we also need to rely on the Holy Spirit in those moments, because the Holy Spirit knows how we need to share the gospel. The Holy Spirit knows what those we talk to need to hear, so we need to trust the Holy Spirit to guide our conversation. The end of this story is the most amazing part though. God performs an incredible miracle for this Ethiopian. The eunuch has just heard the gospel, given his life to Jesus and been baptised. And then Philip blinks out of existence. Gone. He appeared beside the Ethiopian at exactly the right moment, then he was gone. Vanished from sight. Transported by God to another place. The Ethiopian travelled back home, that event doubtless playing on repeat in his mind. Imagine when he tells his queen what happened. She trusts him, she trusts him so much that he’s in charge of all her wealth. She trust him so much that she let him take a many month pilgrimage to Israel. So when he tells her that this man appeared, told him that Isaiah was talking about what happened to this Jesus guy who had been crucified a few months before and that there were many people saying he’d been seen alive after the event. Then after Philip had told him all this and baptised him, Philip vanished. They were in a desert. He didn’t hide behind a bush. There were no tracks in the sand. He was gone. I can just imagine the Queen of Ethiopia getting goosebumps as she hears her accountant/treasurer tell this miraculous story. And so the gospel travelled to Ethiopia. All this because Philip had the courage to leave a successful ministry and walk out into the unknown. If we seek to follow God no matter what, then one day He will ask us to leave success and follow him into the unknown. Will we have the courage to do so? That brings me to point two. 2. We need to have the courage to let others leave when God calls them At some point God will call someone we know to follow Him from their success and into the unknown. Will we have the courage to let them go? Or will we try convince them they should stay because they’re already having great success. Will we try convince them to stay because God didn’t tell us they should leave. God tells us about all His plans for those around us, right? No. We can enter some very, very dangerous ground if we try to discourage someone from going where they believe God is leading them. Think about it like this: If we assume that God is leading them to a new place, what are we doing if we discourage them? We’re telling them to stop following God’s commands and instead to follow us. We’re telling them our wisdom is greater than God’s. We can do incredible harm to people if we try do this. 1 Kings 13 tells a devastating story of what happened to one man when he listened to others over what God told him to do. It’s the story of a man of God from Judah whom God sent to Bethel to warn king Jeroboam to stop sinning. God told the man of God not to eat bread or drink water in that place, and for him not to return home the way he came. As the man of God is returning home, an old prophet heard about all that had happened and found the man and invited him home to eat. The man of God told him no, and told him why he couldn’t. But the prophet said, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’ ” But the prophet was lying. So the man of God returned with him and ate bread and drank water. Then word of the Lord came to the old prophet and he cried out to the man of God what the Lord had said. The Lord said that because the man of God hadn’t kept His command, he would die and not be buried with his ancestors. As the man of God returned home, a lion attacked him and killed him. It and the donkey stood by the man’s body until the old prophet was told about it, and he went and took the body and buried him in his own tomb. Now, this is an extreme case, the Lord had very specific reasons for punishing the man with death for disobeying Him. I won’t get into it much, but in brief, God needed to set a strong example for the nation of Israel because they were doing very evil things. If a man of God suffered death for disobeying the Lord and eating bread, how much more would God punish those who did evil? The reason I bring this example up, though, is to demonstrate just how dangerous it is to those we love if we try convince them not to follow God. If God is telling them go, and we tell them stay and they listen to us, they are disobeying God’s commands to them. It’s still their responsibility to follow God, so we can cause great harm to others if our actions convince them to not follow God’s commands to them. We need to be very, very careful that when those around us need to go, that we don’t oppose God’s will if we want them to stay. But what if someone we know comes to us for advice, saying they believe God is telling them to leave, but we do want them to stay, and think staying would be smarter. How do we give advice? Seeking advice is a Biblical concept. Proverbs 19:20 (NIV): Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. So what do we do? What do we say to them? Well, we need to be careful that we’re not letting our own desires cloud our advice. Are we wanting them to follow God? Or are we just wanting them to do what we think is best? We need to make sure we are right with God and are willing to let them go if God is calling them to go, if we aren’t, then we will never be able to give them sound advice. If all we want is for them to stay, then our advice will be tainted by that desire. So our first step is to acknowledge that they are God’s servants, and so are we. If God tells His servants to go, they must go. If He tells His servants to stay, they must stay. We need to be aware that if we say stay when God says go, we’re encouraging others to disobey God. If someone asks us for advice on going and we aren’t willing to let them go, then we must tell them that we can’t advise them because our own desire for them to stay is too strong. The second step is to pray with them. Pray for wisdom, pray for God to guide them, to protect them from Satan’s lies. Pray that they would be grounded in God’s truth, in God’s Word, the Bible. The third step, once we’re willing to let them go if God calls them, and have prayed for wisdom, is to go to the Bible. Now we look at what the Bible says about their decision? It probably won’t give specifics, but what it does provide is principles to live by. If to go that person needs to steal and lie and break God’s commands, well, it’s probably not God they’re listening to, because God won’t ask us to break His commandments. He will never ask us to sin. If to go means sinning, then it’s probably not from God. So see what wisdom the Bible has to offer. Conclusion God calls His servants to go where He needs them. Some He calls into the desert to talk to a stranger on a dusty road. Other’s He calls to be born, live, and die in one place, never leaving, impacting those around them with a lifelong testimony. But whatever God’s desire for us, we need to have the courage to follow Him. And we need to have the courage to let those around us leave if God calls them to. So my challenge this week is that we prepare for the day we either need to leave, or need to let someone close to us leave. And it’s okay to miss people, it’s okay to be sad to see someone go. But we need to be very, very careful that we don’t discourage them from following God. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.The post Episode 14 Some God calls to leave, some God calls to stay first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
28 minutes | Jun 2, 2019
Episode 13 Eagerly Desire Gifts of the Spirit
It can be tough to know how to discover what our Spiritual Gifts are. Today we’re going to take a look at that and have a look at some ways to start discovering our gifts. Last week in episode 12 of the God’s word, Today’s World podcast, we had a look in Acts at the terrible persecution that happened after Stephen was martyred, a persecution so bad it drove thousands of believers out of Jerusalem. Saul had made it his mission to destroy the church, and was imprisoning every believer he could find. But despite the darkness of that event, God was still at work. There was light in the darkness. The gospel, instead of being snuffed out, suddenly spread like wildfire. As the early church scattered, they shared the gospel far and wide. Saul intended his actions to destroy the church. God intended it that the gospel would go out into the world in force. Instead of small groups heading out as missionaries, thousands headed out. Certainly it was under painful circumstances that they left, but the results were no less significant. No matter how dark events appear to be, there is always a light shining in that darkness, we just may not see it, especially if we’re focused only on the darkness. Today we’re looking at one man’s desire for the gift of God and where he went wrong with his desire. We’ll look also at the correct way to desire gifts of the Spirit, and how indeed, we should desire those gifts. Our passage is Acts 8:9-25 (WEB): 9 But there was a certain man, Simon by name, who used to practise sorcery in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, making himself out to be some great one, 10 to whom they all listened, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is that great power of God.” 11 They listened to him, because for a long time he had amazed them with his sorceries. 12 But when they believed Philip preaching good news concerning God’s Kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women. 13 Simon himself also believed. Being baptised, he continued with Philip. Seeing signs and great miracles occurring, he was amazed. 14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit; 16 for as yet he had fallen on none of them. They had only been baptised in the name of Christ Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me also this power, that whomever I lay my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart isn’t right before God. 22 Repent therefore of this, your wickedness, and ask God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the poison of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.” 24 Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that none of the things which you have spoken happen to me.” 25 They therefore, when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the Good News to many villages of the Samaritans. So last week we saw that Philip was in a city in Samaria, preaching the gospel and performing miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit. Also in that city was a man named Simon who practiced sorcery there and amazed all the people. Exactly what kind of sorcery he practiced is unknown, but whatever power he had was likely given to him by Satan. It was evil power, but people called him the Great Power of God. What exactly his power was we don’t know, but what we know for certain is that it was not from God. But then Philip arrives in the city, and through God’s power, through the Holy Spirit, Philip starts performing real miracles and preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Verse 13 says that Simon himself believed and was baptised, and he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. Now, at this point, while Simon believed, he hadn’t yet received the Holy Spirit. Under normal circumstances, someone will receive the Holy Spirit as soon as they accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour. But in this important time in history, the Holy Spirit hadn’t yet arrived to the new believers in Samaria. Why? Because God was showing the people the authority of the Apostles, and also establishing the unity of the church, regardless of whether people were Jew, Samaritan, gentile. Jesus had given the Apostles the charge of leading the church, of establishing it and building it, and here, God is establishing again that yes, the Apostles do have authority. Jesus came first to the Jews, then to the gentiles—the rest of the world. Romans 1:16. The Apostles’ authority was shown here because they needed to go to this city in Samaria and lay their hands on the believers for them to receive the Holy Spirit. This showed the people of Samaria that yes, the believers in Jerusalem had God-given authority. This was particularly important because Philip was a Hellenistic Jew, he wasn’t originally from Israel but from a somewhat different culture. So this event solidified the Apostles authority, and also showed the unity of the church. It proved to the Samaritans that they were accepted by the Christians in Jerusalem. They were accepted by the people who for so long had rejected them and looked on them with disdain. God showed at this event that it doesn’t matter what our background is, all can have faith in Jesus, all can be saved. As Peter and John were in this city, laying on their hands and people were receiving the Holy Spirit, Simon was watching, and was amazed at the Spirit being given by the laying on of hands. And he wanted it. He wanted that power. He didn’t ask for the Holy Spirit, he asked for the power to give the Holy Spirit to others. Exactly why he wanted it isn’t said, but because he offered money and because of Peter’s response, his reasons for wanting that power were clearly far from pure. It might be easy to say that Peter’s response was harsh and unfair, how could he know Simon’s motives? But remember, this is the same Peter to whom the Holy Spirit gave the ability to see Ananias’ and Sapphira’s hearts. One of Peter’s gifts appeared to be the gift of discernment. The Holy Spirit gave him the ability to see peoples’ motives. This is the second situation where he has done exactly that and seen straight through someone’s words and seen what they really mean. And given the severity of Peter’s response to Simon, I assume that Simon saw a way of getting rich from having the power to give people the Holy Spirit. Perhaps he thought he could sell the Holy Spirit by charging people to have him lay his hands on them and given them the Holy Spirit. Regardless of what he intended to do with the ability, he thought he could buy the incredible gift of God with money. Kinda defeats the purpose of it being a gift, right? Simon wanted the gift of giving the Spirit to people. What Peter and John were doing, the laying on of hands and people received the Holy Spirit, was a spiritual gift given to them for that situation. Now, desiring to have a spiritual gift isn’t wrong, but we do need to be careful about why we desire a spiritual gift. Is it so we can receive praise for it? So we can receive the glory for that gift? That’s what Simon wanted. He wanted the ability to give the Holy Spirit so he could receive the glory—and perhaps make a heap of money off selling the Holy Spirit to people. No, rather we should desire spiritual gifts so that we can be a blessing to others. We should desire spiritual gifts so that we can use them to build up the church, so that we can support the body of Christ that we’re a part of. I talked several weeks ago about how we’re each responsible for being an active part of our churches. If we call a church our home, we’re a part of that body. If we don’t actively seek to serve in our church, then we’re a handicap to the church, we hold back its ability to function at its best. The more parts of a body that function well, the healthier the body is as a whole. Every believer—every person who follows Jesus as their Lord and Saviour who died on the cross for our sins and rose again three days later, defeating death—has spiritual gifts. Those gifts are to be used for supporting the body of Christ, the church. They’re for building up and serving the believers we meet with every Sunday. On the flip side, for every part of the body that doesn’t work—that is, every person in a church who doesn’t actively serve in some capacity—the weaker the body is. Countless churches have failed over the years because the weight of keeping it going fell on one person, or one family—usually the pastor and his family. Some of those churches even had people who attended them who were surprised when the pastor told them the church was closing, people who said, “But I would have helped! You just needed to give me something to do!” And that can be another trap. Not only do we as individuals in our churches need to be willing to help, but we need to actively be seeking ways to serve, actively seeking out our gifts and how we can use them. Imagine a body where only one arm knows its job and does it. The rest of the body just sits there. It’s happy to help out, but doesn’t make an effort to find how to help, to find out what its particular skills are. The working arm one day says, “Okay, I need someone to turn the page of the sermon, because I’m busy getting a drink so the voice can keep talking. Um. Who could do that… Foot, can you turn the page?” “Ah, I dunno, I can try. Can you show me how?” “Sure, it’s pretty easy, you just grab the corner of the page and slide it sideways. Got it?” “Ah, sure. Whatever, I can do that.” And so the foot takes on a job it’s really not good at, and begins to grow bitter about being stuck doing a task that is unnatural to it. The same thing can happen in a church when the pastor is left trying to find people to serve in various ministries. Sometimes they’ll get the right person for the right job. Other times? They’ll get the quiet, reserved introvert who never smiles to do greeting, making everyone feel super welcome at church. And you can bet that introvert is really happy with how they’re serving too. Sometimes it’s necessary to fill positions like that, because a church is desperate. But how much better would it be if every member of a church were actively seeking to serve? If instead of the weight of finding people for jobs fell on one person, each of us looked to see how we could serve? “Oh hey, I notice that you don’t have anyone greeting at church, I love people and making them feel welcome, is that something I could do?” If you do know what your gifts are, what you’re skilled at, what God has given you a passion for, but that role seems to be filled in your church, it doesn’t hurt to still talk to your pastor, and talk to the person currently in that role, see if they need or want help. Sometimes, people are just doing a job because it’s there and needs to be done, but it’s not a strength of theirs and they’d be thrilled to let someone else who is more passionate about it take over. “But what if I don’t know my spiritual gifts?” Some of you might be wondering. There are many who don’t know what their gifts are. You can be a Christian for decades and not know what your gifts are. It took me fifteen years to work out I have the spiritual gift of teaching. But how is it possible to go for so long without knowing? We all receive spiritual gifts when we give our lives to Christ, right? It’s possible, because these gifts don’t just become apparent to us one day, rather, we need to earnestly seek them out. 1 Corinthians 14:1A (NIV): “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit…” Eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit. How many of you know what your spiritual gifts are? If you don’t know, how many of you have eagerly desired them, have actively sought to find out what your gifts are? It’s not enough to say, “Yeah, I want spiritual gifts.” We need to eagerly desire them and work to discover them. Until fairly recently, I made no effort to discover my spiritual gifts, it wasn’t until about three years ago that I actually tried to find what my gifts were and really sought them out. But the good news is this: it’s actually not that hard to discover our spiritual gifts. There’s not strange and mysterious process that happens then poof! Suddenly we know. It really boils down to two things: 1. What are we passionate about? 2. Trial and error. So 1. What are we passionate about? Often our spiritual gifts are related to something we already love to do. An interesting example, I mentioned one of my spiritual gifts is teaching. Now, those who know me, know I’m actually terrified of public speaking, I’m a little more used to it nowadays, but it still makes me nauseated and uncomfortable. So that doesn’t seem to fit. However, I do love helping people. I love taking complicated things and explaining them in a way that makes sense, I love seeing peoples’ eyes light up as they get it, as something formerly incomprehensible and difficult, suddenly because understandable. I have a huge passion for understanding things and finding out the why to everything. I’m never satisfied with answers of, “do it this way because we always do it this way.” Yes, okay. Fine. You always do it that way, but why do you always do it that way? What happens if you don’t do it that way? If I don’t get told why I shouldn’t do something a certain way, I can guarantee you that at some point I’ll try it and find out myself. I broke many an expensive tool as a machinist discovering for myself why you didn’t do certain things a certain way. That passion to discover and understand the why, is something I’ve always had as a Christian. I never would have connected it to teaching or even preaching if I hadn’t been actively seeking out and desiring my spiritual gifts. So, a great start to discovering our gifts is to look at our passions. Do we love children? Do we love making food? Do we love having guests over? Do we love telling people what a great job they do? If you love children, maybe you have a gift of teaching young minds, helping young people understand the gospel. If you love making food, or having guests over, maybe you have the gift of hospitality. If you love telling people they’re doing great, maybe you have the gift of encouragement. Having a spiritual gift for something doesn’t mean we’ll just be good at it, we’ll be supernaturally good at it. It’s obvious to others that that gift goes beyond any natural talent or training. So you can also ask those who know you best what they think you’re particularly gifted at. They may well have seen something in you that you never knew existed. Sometimes what the Holy Spirit has given us a gift for is something we don’t even realise is a gift because it seems to come that easily to us. I’ve met people who have no idea they have a gift for prayer, because to them praying earnestly for others is easy. But spending an hour praying earnestly doesn’t come naturally to many of us! Especially not me. It takes a lot of work and focus for me to pray for more than five minutes. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t spend more time praying, but my point is, to some people listening to this, you’ll probably be scratching your head and baffled at how I could possibly struggle to pray for even a few minutes without getting distracted. Perhaps the Holy Spirit has blessed you with the gift of prayer, and that’s something you can use to bless your church with. Once we identify what we’re passionate about, it brings us to point 2. 2. Trial and error. The second step is pretty simple: jump in and try something! You’re passionate about numbers or organisation? You’re great at them? Maybe you’d be a good church administrative assistant. See if your church needs something like that and give it a go. Talk to your pastor about it and tell them you’re working on discovering what your gifts are, and you think this is a possibility, can you try it and see? Perhaps you’ll find out that you’re not a good fit, maybe that you enjoy it, but you’re not that great at the task. Or you can do it well, but you really don’t enjoy it. That’s okay. Just talk to your pastor about it and see about something else you can try. I dare say that many pastors would be thrilled to have a member of the church come up to them and say, “Hey, I’m seeking to discover my spiritual gifts so I can use them to serve the church, I’m really passionate about this and this, so maybe I could try this area? Or if you think there’s a better fit given what I’ve told you, could you suggest it?” Simply walking up to a pastor and saying, “I want to serve.” is great, but many I think many would struggle to think of something off the top of their heads—unless it was a particular task they’ve been wanting done for a while, and that may not be something you have any skill or gifting in. But when we go to the leaders in our church after having put some thought into it and have some suggestions and ideas? That’s a whole different story. If you came up to me on a Sunday morning and said you wanted to serve, the first thing that would come to mind is that we need someone to greet at the door. Maybe that’s a fit for you, maybe it’s not. But if you came up to me and said, “I’m a drummer and I’d love to serve on the worship team” I’d say, “Perfect, join us for practice next week and we’ll give you a trial run, see how you go, because I’ll happily step back from music, as much as I love it, and take the time to pray and go over the sermon more on a Sunday morning so I’m better prepared to preach.” See, if you just want to serve but have no idea what you’re good at, church leadership will just try find you any old job. But if you have a particular skill and passion? That opens up a whole new set of options to church leadership. Conclusion It’s okay to see a spiritual gift and desire it. The fact that Simon desired to have the ability to give others the Holy Spirit wasn’t in and of itself wrong. What was wrong, was the reason why he wanted that ability. He wanted to purchase it and use it for his own glory, for his own gain. We should desire spiritual gifts. But, it’s important that we desire them for the right reason. We should desire them so that we can serve others, so that we can build up the church. My challenge this week is this: Eagerly desire spiritual gifts and seek to put them to use in your church to build others up and be an active and functioning part of the body. If you don’t know what your spiritual gifts are, go through those two steps listed above, think about what you’re passionate about and what you’re great at, think about some areas you could possibly serve in your church, and talk to your pastor about giving them a go. If you already know what your spiritual gifts are, awesome! Skip step one and instead think of some areas you could serve in your church then talk to your pastor about it. We each have the responsibility to seek out ways to serve, and if we do so? The church will grow stronger. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.The post Episode 13 Eagerly Desire Gifts of the Spirit first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
19 minutes | May 26, 2019
Episode 12 Light in the darkness
No matter how dark the world is, there is still light, God’s light. And as disciples of Jesus, we can be that light in the darkness for those around us. Last week in episode 11 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast, we looked at the importance of spending time in God’s word so if and when the need arises, we can defend the gospel, we can defend what we believe. We also looked at the importance of testing everything we hear against the Bible. We can’t let podcasts, commentaries, theological books or even sermons replace the Bible. We need to go back to the Bible every time and test what we learn to make sure what we learn is correct. This week we’re back to Acts’ ever-present theme of persecution. This week we’re seeing that no matter how dark, no matter how terrible the situation, God is still at work, light can still be found. Even in the darkest places. Our passage today is Acts 8:1-8 (WEB). It directly follows the stoning of Stephen, during which we were introduced to a man named Saul. Acts 8 opens with these chilling words: 1 Saul was consenting to his death. A great persecution arose against the assembly which was in Jerusalem in that day. They were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and lamented greatly over him. 3 But Saul ravaged the assembly, entering into every house and dragged both men and women off to prison. What a terrible start Chapter 8 has. After all the incredible works and growth we witnessed in the first seven chapters if Acts, this happens. Persecution more serious than anything they’d faced before breaks out, and this man Saul made it his mission to destroy the church, going from house to house and dragging men and women off and throwing them in prison. If Acts were a movie, this section would be that terrifying and heartbreaking scene early on where the good guy’s world gets destroyed by the evil force in the story. But the good news is, the passage doesn’t stop there! After we witness this horror, Luke immediately continues with this in verse 4: 4 Therefore those who were scattered abroad went around preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 The multitudes listened with one accord to the things that were spoken by Philip when they heard and saw the signs which he did. 7 For unclean spirits came out of many of those who had them. They came out, crying with a loud voice. Many who had been paralysed and lame were healed. 8 There was great joy in that city. That dark, dark day where the Jews stoned Stephen sparked something incredible. The church scattered… And grew. Instead of remaining in Jerusalem, the church spread throughout the known world. As they scattered, they preached the gospel. They shared the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and what he’d done on the cross with his death and resurrection. Instead of the gospel only being shared in Jerusalem, suddenly it was being shared throughout the region. In Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. In Samaria, we see Philip—one of the seven originally chosen to oversee the administration of the food to widows—performing miracles. The Holy Spirit allowed Philip to heal the sick and cast out evil spirits. Great joy entered that city because Philip was there and the Holy Spirit was working through him. And the only reason Philip was in that city? The persecution in Jerusalem. That is the only reason. He had a big job to do in Jerusalem, he was tasked with helping distribute food to probably hundreds of people every day. He already had a task, why would he travel to Samaria? But he was forced out of the city by the wicked actions of sinful men and women who hated Jesus. It reminds me of Joseph’s words in Genesis 50:20 (WEB) when he spoke to his brothers who had sold him into slavery: As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to save many people alive, as is happening today. They intended to hurt Joseph, but God had a bigger plan at play, God was getting Joseph to Egypt, where after years of fighting to be a God honouring man, he wound up being second in command of Egypt, the only person above him was Pharaoh himself. And Joseph was there so that with God’s guidance, he could save not one, but two nations from a terrible famine. He saved Egypt, and he saved the Israelite nation—his family, his brothers, the very men who threw him in a well then sold him as a slave. In Acts 8, we see the same thing happening. But it’s not necessarily lives being saved, it’s souls. Saul and those with him sought to destroy the church. They sought to harm those who followed Jesus. But because of their actions, the church scattered, and the gospel spread like a wildfire. It was no longer contained to one city, but was being shared across the countryside. What Saul intended for harm, God intended for good: pushing the gospel into the world and the salvation of countless people. Even in the darkest of events, good still happens We tell ourselves frequently that God is more powerful than the devil. God is more powerful than any evil. Yet in spite of that, we have a tendency to look at horrific events… and see only the evil that happened. We have a tendency to focus only on the bad, so much so that we completely miss the good that also happens. If this event in Acts happened today, all we’d ever hear about is the oppression, the bad, the evil committed. We’d lament for people imprisoned. We’d pray that the evil would stop. We’d likely be so focused on the evil happening in Jerusalem, that we’d completely miss the incredible good happening in the world around the city! But good was happening! Despite the devastating persecution, even more people were being saved! The gospel was being shared far and wide. Satan wants us to focus on the evil, he wants media to be saturated with everything bad that happens. Why? Because it pulls our attention away from God! If we look at the news today, it’d be easy to tell ourselves that Satan is more powerful than God based on the sheer amount of evil being reported every single minute. But every now and then, we stumble across a piece of reporting that includes the good, and we get just a small glimpse at the good that God is working despite the fallen nature of this world and the sin we live in. What we need to remember is that even in the darkest moments, God is still at work. We know that God is more powerful than Satan, right? We know that God is more powerful than evil, right? So it only makes sense that God is still present even in the darkness. God doesn’t disappear when a gun massacre happens. God doesn’t disappear when thousands are slaughtered in the Middle East. God doesn’t disappear when the darkness threatens to overwhelm. He’s there. He’s always there. We just so often don’t see any sign of Him because we’re staring at the darkness rather than looking for the light. We’re letting the world tell us that God is terrible for allowing that situation to even happen in the first place. We let ourselves be ashamed to be called believers in a God who’d allow evil to happen. And we can so easily forget that evil didn’t happen because God wanted it. Evil happened because we chose it. Humankind chose to ignore God and to sin. We chose to invite sin, evil and death into the world. God gave Adam and Eve a choice because He wants us to choose to follow Him, not be forced into loving Him. Adam and Eve chose sin. But even though that evil happened, good also happened. Satan intended that event to destroy the human race. But God intended it to then allow Him to demonstrate the immeasurable depths of His love for us because He sent His Son, Jesus, to willingly pay the price for our sin. Sin is not good, but God, in allowing us to have the choice of whether to sin or not, then showed us His incredible grace and forgiveness by loving us in spite of our sin, in spite of our wickedness. We live in a universe created by God. He knows the past, he knows the future. He knows us so intimately that He knows how many hairs are on our heads. He is an all powerful God, and nothing, nothing can happen that’s outside His will. If anything could happen outside God’s will, it would mean God is not all powerful, and all creation is not under his control. But God is omnipotent—all powerful. God allowed Adam and Eve to sin, to condemn the entire world to death, because He had an even greater event to orchestrate than the creation of the universe. That event was Jesus’ death and resurrection. Why is that event greater than the creation of the world? Think about it like this. Which would prove your love more: Having a child? Or dying to save your child? Which would prove your mercy more: Punishing your child for the wrong they did against you? Or taking the punishment yourself for their wrong? Which would prove your grace more: Giving your child who constantly disobeyed you what they deserved? Or giving them an incredible gift of eternal life free from sin, pain, and sadness? God proved His love by Jesus willingly dying for our sins. God proved His mercy when Jesus took the punishment for our sins. God proved His grace by giving us the free gift of salvation when we repent and call on Jesus Christ as our Lord. In the garden, Satan intended it for evil when he convinced Eve to eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. But God intended it for good, so He could demonstrate how far He would go to love us. When Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave, they intended to be rid of their own brother. But God intended it that he could save those very men and their families from starvation and show them what His grace and mercy looked like through Joseph’s actions. When Saul made it his job to destroy the church, he intended it to crush Christianity. But God intended it so that the good news of what Jesus did would spread throughout the world. Don’t be blinded by the darkness It’s easy to get caught up in the evil that happens in the world and only see the darkness. It’s also easy to blame God for evil, but it’s not God committing evil. It’s us. God gave all of us the freedom to choose how to live our lives. God gave his angels the freedom to choose how to live their lives. Some, like Satan, chose evil. Don’t mistake God allowing us to have the freedom to choose as God doing evil things. God allows us to choose, and those choices have a cost, and if we choose sin? Well, all sin has a cost. Sometimes that cost is millions dead at the hand of dictator. God could stop any wrong from ever happening. All He’d have to do is remove our freewill. We would be forced to follow Him, to love Him. And that is not love. He created the universe to worship Him. He created us to worship Him, to choose to worship Him because we know for certain how much He loves us because of what Jesus willingly did on the cross for all who put their faith in Jesus. So my challenge this week is this: When we see evil in the world, remember that good is also happening. When we see incredible darkness reported in the news, remember that in the midst of that darkness, the bright light of Christ is also shining. This I believe will always be the case. I believe this is the case because it’s the pattern we see over, and over, and over again throughout scripture. And that pattern started with the most devastating evil to ever happen, a sin so great it killed billions and billions of people—Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Yet God intended something greater: proving to us the depth of his love, grace, and mercy. Let’s close in prayer. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct.The post Episode 12 Light in the darkness first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
27 minutes | May 19, 2019
Episode 11 Can you defend the Gospel?
Are you ready to give a defence of the Gospel, even if it means your death? Today we talk about Stephen and his defence of the gospel in Acts 6 and 7. Last week in episode 10 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast, we looked at how the Apostles dealt with an issue the church had brought to them. They didn’t deal with it by going out and fixing the problem themselves, but rather, they had the church choose seven men filled with the Holy Spirit and with wisdom to handle the situation. In doing so, that freed the Apostles up to continue focusing on the ministry Jesus had given them, preaching the gospel. We saw that their action made the church healthier, and today, we can do the same to improve the health of our churches. The solution to fixing issues within the church isn’t that those already working do more work; that those serving serve more. The solution rather, is that more people need to start serving. As a church we are a body made up of many different parts, and a body functions best when all parts are working, doing their different tasks, but working together. Today we’re looking at the importance of being able to give a defence of the gospel, of what we believe. It’s quite a long passage, but I want to read all of it because I believe it’s important to let God’s words through Luke do the talking here instead of me trying to paraphrase and trim it down to just what I think is important. Our passage today is Acts 6:8-7:60, but before we start on it, I want to bring something to attention as we go: I talk about the importance of sharing the truth of God’s word mixed equally with love. As we read through Stephen’s defence of the gospel here, it can be hard to spot his love for the people in his words. However, his love for them is revealed in his very last words. So while sometimes his words sound harsh here, know that he does care for them, and his words are still the truth. So let’s get started! Acts 6:8-7:60 (NIV): Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition 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—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?” To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’ “So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. He gave him no inheritance here, not even enough ground to set his foot on. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child. God spoke to him in this way: ‘For four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.’ Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs. “Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace. “Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our ancestors could not find food. When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our forefathers on their first visit. On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died. Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money. “As the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had greatly increased. Then ‘a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.’ He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our ancestors by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die. “At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for by his family. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites. He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?’ “But the man who was mistreating the other pushed Moses aside and said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons. (Note: here Stephen is showing his respect for Moses, but the disrespect and mockery that the Israelites showed Moses. So Stephen is responding to the accusation that he is speaking blasphemous words against Moses) “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to get a closer look, he heard the Lord say: ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look. “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.’ “This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness. “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us. “But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and revelled in what their own hands had made. But God turned away from them and gave them over to the worship of the sun, moon and stars. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets: “ ‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel? You have taken up the tabernacle of Molek and the star of your god Rephan, the idols you made to worship. Therefore I will send you into exile’ beyond Babylon. (Amos 5) “Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. (Now Stephen addresses the accusations about his disrespect of the temple by explaining its history and showing his care for it by his knowledge of it) It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: “ ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?’ “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” The Stoning of Stephen When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. So the Synagogue of the Freedmen had issue with Stephen and the truth Stephen taught about Jesus. But they couldn’t stand up to the wisdom the Holy Spirit had given him as he spoke. So instead, they did what others had done to Jesus, they spread lies about what Stephen was saying. They claimed that Stephen was speaking against the temple and saying that Jesus would destroy the temple and change the customs Moses handed down to them. With that, Stephen defends the gospel with an incredible sermon, demonstrating his knowledge of the Old Testament, which the people he spoke to claimed to believe. He pointed out how even right after God had rescued the Israelites from Egypt, they still wanted to go worship idols. Even though they had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them, they had a place to worship God, they found things to worship. Then in David’s time, David asked to build a temple for God, a dwelling place on Earth. However, David had shed too much blood, so instead, God allowed his son, Solomon, to build the temple. Then Stephen points out that God doesn’t live in buildings made by human hands. Stephen explains this using God’s own words from the books of the Old Testament that those he spoke to believed to be true. And this is when Stephen gets to the crux of his argument. See, they had accused him of blasphemy and claimed he was teaching that Jesus would destroy the temple. They claimed that was blasphemy because they believed that it was God’s home and that destroying it would destroy God’s home. Two things. 1: Jesus never said that, he was referring to his own body, the temple, being destroyed and then rebuilt in three days. Referring to his death and resurrection. That’s found in John 2:19. And 2: Stephen points out that God doesn’t need the temple, He allowed Solomon to build it for humans sake, not for his sake. The people were supposed to respect it because it represented the house of God on earth. Ultimately, however, the temple was a pile of stones. Yes it served as a reminder—to a degree—of God’s glory, but it was always God people were meant to worship, never the temple itself, because doing that was idolatry. Which is exactly what the teachers of the law and the pharisees had turned it into. And idol. It was more important to them than God. We know that because they loved the temple yet they rejected Jesus. Jesus said that anyone who rejects him, rejects the Father. Luke 10:16. Then Stephen really hammers home his argument. He tells those listening that they are exactly like their ancestors who resisted the Holy Spirit and persecuted the prophets. They haven’t changed one bit. They had the law of God, but refused to obey it, because the law predicts Jesus. They claimed that Jesus was wiping out the law, the law was established to point to Jesus! He fulfilled the law! At those words, the members of the Sanhedrin were furious, they refused to listen or give any weight to what Stephen said. Then Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God in heaven. When he told them that, they dragged him out and stoned him to death. And a young man named Saul stood nearby, condoning the first murder of a disciple of Jesus. Then we see God’s incredible love displayed through Stephen as he asks God not to hold the sin they were committing against them. Those are not the words of a bitter man angry at being unjustly stoned to death. Rocks were pelting him, breaking skin and bones, rocks thrown by people he had shown God’s truth to. Instead of being angry at the injustice of what they were doing, he cried out for their forgiveness. Those were the words of a person filled with God’s compassion and love. In that moment he cared more about their forgiveness than about his own life. He was ready to die at their hands, and he was asking for God to not hold their sin against them. I truly believe he had that same love for those people as he shared the truth of God’s word. Maybe he got exasperated at the ridiculousness of a people who for hundreds of years had made the same mistake over, and over, and over again, but he did love them. However, the real question I want us to ask ourselves today is this: Are we ready to give a defence of the Gospel, even if it means our death? Do we know scripture well enough to be able to give a defence like Stephen did? Are we spending time in God’s word while we have the opportunity so that we have knowledge of it in those moments when we need to give a defence but don’t have a Bible with us? If I asked you to tell me the gospel in a hundred words, could you do that right now? If I asked you to explain why it’s so important that Jesus rose from the dead, could you tell me right now? If I asked you how we can know Jesus is the Son of God, could you show me in scripture where it says that? A number of you probably can answer all those questions quickly, especially if you’re mature in your faith. But if you can’t, perhaps because you haven’t been a Christian long, or haven’t had the opportunity to study God’s word much, that’s okay! It’s okay so long as you take steps to grow in your faith, in your relationship with God. Which you can do by spending time in His Word, the Bible. And on that, I want to challenge all of us to do something: Will we study God’s word in preparation for giving a defence of the gospel? Will we prepare in advance so that if and when we’re called to give a defence, the Holy Spirit can use our preparation and give us the exact words we need for the situation? Spending time in scriptures has a twofold affect: not only does it prepare us to make a defence of the gospel, but it also provide opportunity for us to grow in our faith, because when we spend time in the Bible, the Holy Spirit often convicts us of our sin. God’s word highlights the areas in our life that need work. And so we can get to work fixing our sin and following God better. There is no substitute for personal study of the Bible. No podcast can replace it. No commentary can replace it. No theological book can replace it. No sermon can replace it. Certainly those things can help us understand the Bible better, but we should never replace the Bible with those things. Ultimately we should be testing everything we hear and read against the Bible to make sure what we hear is accurate. You need to be testing what I say on this podcast against the Bible. Decide for yourselves whether what I said was Biblical. I hope it is, I pray it is, because that’s my goal. But I do make mistakes, I misunderstand passages or miss important context, I let what I want to say take over from what God wants to say. I can promise you that I try, but I’m no replacement for the Bible, and each and every one of us needs to be so engrossed in God’s word that we know the instant someone says something that doesn’t match scripture. So please, rely on your Bibles first. Use other resources to help understand the Bible, but always go back to God’s word to test everything you learn or are told. And that includes what I say. Test my words against God’s. See if they stand up, or if they fall. I’m just here to try to help explain scripture, to try to make some things easier to understand. I’m not here to replace it. That’s why I read the entire passage today. It was tempting to try paraphrase it and shorten it as it was so long, but I want God’s words to speak to you, not my own. So that means I need to share God’s words, not try to change them and shorten them. There’s a reason God inspired Luke to write all he did, and I don’t want to take away from that. So test everything you hear against God’s word, and prepare yourself incase you need to give a defence for the gospel. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.The post Episode 11 Can you defend the Gospel? first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
26 minutes | May 12, 2019
Episode 10 Is your church your family? Or your weekly social club?
The church in the West is sick. Very sick. It’s a barely functioning cripple. Sure it looks okay on a Sunday morning, but it looks nothing like the church in Acts. Last week in episode 9 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast we continued our look at persecution, a topic which appears many times throughout Acts. We saw last week that the Apostles, after they had suffered disgrace for Jesus name, rejoiced. They rejoiced not because they had been flogged, but because they had been counted worthy of suffering for Jesus. To them, the persecution was proof they were living as Jesus had taught them because they were suffering the same way Jesus had. Today is no different. When we seek to love others as Jesus loves us and we face persecution of any kind for that, it’s a proof that we’re honouring God. It’s proof because we’re suffering the same way Jesus suffered. That does not mean persecution is easy or that it won’t hurt. It will cause pain. But we can rejoice because it’s a sign of something more. It’s a sign that we’re honouring God. And which is better, to please God? Or to please the world? Today we’re looking at the health of the western church. Our passage today is Acts 6:1-7 (WEB): 1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, a complaint arose from the Hellenists against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily service. 2 The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore select from amongst you, brothers, seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4 But we will continue steadfastly in prayer and in the ministry of the word.” 5 These words pleased the whole multitude. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch; 6 whom they set before the apostles. When they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. 7 The word of God increased and the number of the disciples greatly multiplied in Jerusalem. A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. The Twelve Apostles have been doing what Jesus commanded, they’ve been spreading the gospel. They’ve been doing signs and wonders through the power of the Holy Spirit. They’ve been suffering for Jesus, they’ve been in prison, they’ve been flogged, they’ve been ridiculed. For what? Loving others and telling people the truth about Jesus. But all is not perfect within the church. Some Jews, those not native to Palestine, but from Diaspora, believed their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. Caring for widows was an incredibly important part of church life. There was no government welfare, God had always commanded the Israelites to care for the widows and orphans. That was a duty they were still to perform. However, some were being overlooked. And those being overlooked complained to the twelve about it, asking them to fix the situation. On the surface, this seems perfectly reasonable. If you’ve got a problem in the church, you take it to the pastor. Nothing wrong with that, right? It was the Apostles’ responsibility to make sure everything ran smoothly, right? To a degree that is right. However, there was a simple matter of logistics that needed to be addressed. See, by this point, it’s not an unrealistic estimate that the church in Jerusalem could have been around 20,000 people. In Acts 4:4, Luke records the number of men who believed to be around 5,000. That’s not including women and children. Nearly every chapter Luke also records that the church continued to grow rapidly. So, what we have here is 12 men responsible for maybe 20,000 people. Can you imagine the number of complaints and issues that would crop up in a group of 20,000 people? I’ve been to a number of church meetings in my life in churches of just 200 people, the meetings always last a while, and there are always a number of issues brought up. Now multiply that by a hundred. In other words, the Apostles had an impossible amount to deal with. So much so that if they were to try deal with the general administration of the church, they’d have to neglect their ministry as Jesus’ chosen spokespersons. Their primary ministry was to preach the word of God with truth and love. They could not do that while administrating a group of 20,000 people. And so their response to the complaint was quite simple. “Find people you know are filled with the Spirit and with the wisdom to fix the problem, and let them fix it.” So the church did exactly that, they chose seven Godly men and the Apostles appointed them to administer the food and ensure that all were cared for equally, regardless of where they came from. This simple action freed the Apostles up to focus on their task of preaching the word, and so allowed the church to continue to grow rapidly. But why did this work so well? Why was the act of giving the responsibility of distributing the food to others such an important thing? The church is a body I’m sure many of you have heard the concept Paul talks about of the church being a body, the body of Christ. Paul uses this analogy because it’s a powerful example of how the church is to function. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (WEB): 12 For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all given to drink into one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I’m not the hand, I’m not part of the body,” it is not therefore not part of the body. 16 If the ear would say, “Because I’m not the eye, I’m not part of the body,” it’s not therefore not part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the smelling be? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body, just as he desired. 19 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now they are many members, but one body. 21 The eye can’t tell the hand, “I have no need for you,” or again the head to the feet, “I have no need for you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 Those parts of the body which we think to be less honourable, on those we bestow more abundant honour; and our unpresentable parts have more abundant propriety; 24 whereas our presentable parts have no such need. But God composed the body together, giving more abundant honour to the inferior part, 25 that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 When one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. When one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. Paul addresses a few important concepts here, but what I want to focus on is this: Every part of a body has a job. There are no useless parts. There are no parts that are just there for their own benefit and give nothing to the rest of the body. My hand needs my stomach, and my stomach needs my hand. If I don’t eat, my stomach can’t absorb the nutrients that my muscles need to survive. Without that food, the muscles for my hand will wither and cease to work. If my hand ceases to work, I can’t feed myself, I can’t provide my stomach with the food that it needs to convert to fuel my hand needs to keep functioning. My hand and my stomach need each other. If one stops working, everything else is put under humongous strain. My wife, Brittany, is a great example right now of what happens when one part of the body ceases to function as it should. Right now her left ankle is in a state of recovery from breaking it and then surgery. Because of this, every single muscle from her ankle to her neck has been messed up as her body fights to compensate for the strain of a half working ankle. But not just her muscles are affected. Her mood and emotions suffer because of the constant frustration of not being able to move properly. And further, my life suffers because I need to do more for her. Now, that’s not a complaint, it’s just a fact, it’s what’s happening because of her damaged ankle. One joint failed and right now doesn’t do its job properly and nearly every part of Brittany’s life suffers because of it. But if you were to look at her, she’s limping a bit, but seems to be functioning pretty well. It doesn’t look that bad. And true, she can walk now, she is fairly mobile. But is she anything like what she was six months ago? No! Not even close. She can’t run, she can’t jump, she can’t even do a squat. She can’t use stairs without a railing, she can’t walk long distances. Her back is messed up from the imbalance of the way she has to walk. That in turn messes her neck up and gives her headaches. But to look at her, she can walk, she can get to work, she’s independent. Brittany is a picture of so many churches. We look at them and say, “Well, they work, right? They meet every Sunday, they have a couple of Bible studies through the week, maybe an outreach or two now and then. They’re working fine!” But in reality, many churches are barely functioning cripples. How many churches have you attended, looked around on a Sunday morning, thought everything looked just fine, then left. How often do we attend a church and get discouraged because there’s not much outreach, or there aren’t enough ministries? How often have we said, “Man, I wish they had a Bible study that suited me.” Or, “I wish the did more events out in the community.” I’ve heard countless stories of people leaving churches because they didn’t feel the church provided them what they wanted. It didn’t cater to their needs. And to be honest, I’ve been that person. I’ve left churches because they didn’t tick all the boxes I wanted them to tick. How often do we look at those churches and say, “That church is lazy because they’re not doing X.” But do we stop to consider the fact that perhaps that church has no ministries because it’s actually crippled? And the reason that church is crippled is because out of everyone in the church on Sunday morning, only a handful are actually invested in the church, are actually involved with ministries and helping out. And so the weight of keeping the church functioning falls on the shoulders of a few. Those few are forced to work overtime to compensate for the parts that do nothing. And those relatively few suffer. They miss things, they stop doing ministries they used to love because they don’t have time or energy and need to focus on the bare minimum of keeping the church functioning on a Sunday morning. And so the church is on life support. And that is the state of the western church. We are on life support, people! The western church as a whole is barely keeping alive! When was the last time you walked into a church in the west and every single member was active in serving others and was proactive in seeking out ministries to be involved with and not just waiting to be given something to do? I honestly have never in my life walked into a church like that. I don’t doubt they exist. But I’ve not experienced them. I’ll quickly note that when I say member, I’m referring specifically to people who would say they’re a part of the church. I’m not talking about visitors, I’m not talking about guests, or about people at church because they’re searching for something, for Jesus. I’m talking about people who have committed their lives to following Jesus and call that church their home. Look around your church. It won’t be a healthy church unless every single person who calls that church their own is involved in serving the rest of the church. That includes you. It’s that hand and stomach situation. Some of you go to church because you like the sermons. Some of you go because you like the worship. Some of you go because you like the people. Some of you go for the coffee. My point is this, you go to church for something, something that someone else is providing. Maybe you go for the music. The worship team I’m sure if happy to serve in that way. But they also need others—you—to serve them, to help them. They have struggles, pains, fears. They need your support. Perhaps you go for the sermons. I’m sure your pastor is happy to serve in that way. But they still need serving too. A lot of it. They’re on the frontline, and their entire family is under constant attack because of it. They need your constant support and prayer. Now, some of you do go with a focus of serving others, not just to be served. Some of you serve on a ministry team, or are a pastor, or serve in some way in your church. And that’s awesome. But to be healthy churches, we need everyone who calls the church their own to come with a desire to not just get something, but to serve others. And to take that into the week, too. Because it’s about more than Sunday morning. There are only so many tasks that need doing on a Sunday, but there are endless opportunities for serving others throughout the week. And until all of us are serving in some way, our churches will be churches that are limping, not running and jumping. But how will we know when we have healthy churches? Obviously we’re not literally limping. What does a healthy church look like? We need go no further than Acts. Remember those passages we’ve looked at over the past few weeks where everyone in the church was giving up their own property in order to care for one another, in order to make sure everyone had what they needed? If we take a look at the heart behind those acts of selling possessions and property, what do we find? We find a church filled with members who desired to serve others, who made it a priority to serve their brothers and sisters. That’s what a healthy church looks like. It’s a church where people come because they desire to serve others. It’s a church where people make it a priority to see the needs of their brothers and sisters met. It’s a church where everyone treats each other as family, not just acquaintances they see once a week. Now, they weren’t a perfect church, they had issues, they got sick. Today we looked at some of that sickness developing, hurting the church’s ministry and health. Some of those in need were being ignored and were suffering because of that. But how the Apostles dealt with that is key. And if the Western church, meaning each and every Christian in the West, tackle issues like they did, it will change the health of the Western church overnight. Ready? Here’s the answer: The solution to what was broken in Acts 6 wasn’t that those already working do more work; that those serving serve more. The solution was this: More people needed to start serving The solution was that the rest of the body start picking up the slack. That the hands sitting idle and just draining the body actually work. That the eyes that are dazed and unfocused actually see. That the heart that doesn’t want to beat actually beats. It’s that simple. The health of a church is dictated by the willingness of its members to love and serve others. And that is my challenge today: How are you serving the needs of your brothers and sisters at your church? Are you serving others? Or are you going to church on the weekend because of what you get from it? And if you want to serve but you have no idea how, or what areas the Holy Spirit has given you gifts and passions, or what your church needs, please, talk to your leadership and find out! In episode 13 I talk about how we can discover our Spiritual gifts and use them to serve others. That should be coming out on June 3, 2019. If you’re listening after that date, it’ll be available to listen to now! So I’ll close with this: the answer to the Western church’s health problem isn’t that those serving serve more. It’s that more of us serve. When we gave our life to Christ, we didn’t become a part of a meet-once-a-week-club, we became a part of a family. Of a body. Do you treat your church like a family? Do you care for it like you should your body? Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct.The post Episode 10 Is your church your family? Or your weekly social club? first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
24 minutes | May 5, 2019
Episode 9 Are you willing to suffer for the sake of Jesus’ name?
Persecution hurts. And yet… when Jesus’ disciples were persecuted for his name they rejoiced! Today we’ll look at how they could rejoice in the face of persecution. Last week in episode 8 of the God’s Word, Today’s World podcast, we had a look at how when we repent of sin, God takes our ugly life and makes it beautiful. When we repent of sin, we cease to be slaves to sin, but we have a new master, God. We also saw that we can damage our testimony by refusing to give up sin in our life, but… when we repent of that sin, our freedom from it can become a part of our testimony because it’s a personal example of God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy. Today’s episode ties back to an event we looked at a few weeks ago. Peter and John were thrown in prison overnight and then questioned by priests. They were told to stop speaking about Jesus, to which Peter and John responded in Acts 4:19-20 (NIV): “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” In Acts 5, we see them doing exactly what they said they would: continuing to speak about Jesus. Acts 5:12-42 (WEB): 12 By the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done amongst the people. They were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, however the people honoured them. 14 More believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. 15 They even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mattresses, so that as Peter came by, at least his shadow might overshadow some of them. 16 The multitude also came together from the cities around Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits: and they were all healed. 17 But the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy 18 and laid hands on the apostles, then put them in public custody. 19 But an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors by night, and brought them out and said, 20 “Go stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.” 21 When they heard this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and taught. But the high priest came, and those who were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But the officers who came didn’t find them in the prison. They returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison shut and locked, and the guards standing before the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24 Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these words, they were very perplexed about them and what might become of this. 25 One came and told them, “Behold, the men whom you put in prison are in the temple, standing and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain went with the officers, and brought them without violence, for they were afraid that the people might stone them. 27 When they had brought them, they set them before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “Didn’t we strictly command you not to teach in this name? Behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you killed, hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. 32 We are his witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” 33 But they, when they heard this, were cut to the heart, and were determined to kill them. 34 But one stood up in the council, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, honoured by all the people, and commanded to put the apostles out for a little while. 35 He said to them, “You men of Israel, be careful concerning these men, what you are about to do. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, making himself out to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves. He was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were dispersed, and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the enrolment, and drew away some people after him. He also perished, and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered abroad. 38 Now I tell you, withdraw from these men, and leave them alone. For if this counsel or this work is of men, it will be overthrown. 39 But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it, and you would be found even to be fighting against God!” 40 They agreed with him. Summoning the apostles, they beat them and commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for Jesus’ name. 42 Every day, in the temple and at home, they never stopped teaching and preaching Jesus, the Christ. The disciples were warned to no longer speak of Jesus, but they knew they needed to follow Jesus’ command to be his witnesses. And so despite being warned in Acts 2 to keep silent about Jesus, they met together in a public place, Solomon’s Colonnade. Crowds gathered around them, even from the towns around Jerusalem. People brought their sick in the hopes that Peter’s shadow might fall on some and heal them. And Luke records that all were healed. Not from Peter’s shadow, not from Peter’s power, but from the Holy Spirit through Peter. Of course, all this earned them a lot of attention from the high priest and his associates. Filled with jealousy that the Apostles were more respected and honoured than they, they arrested the Apostles. But they were fighting against God, they weren’t fighting against mere men. An angel of the Lord released them from prison and the next day the Apostles continued to teach. So the Apostles were once again brought before the Sanhedrin and the high priest says, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” This response is a sad example of the lies they were willing to tell to keep their power. They claimed that the Apostles were trying to make them guilty of Jesus’ death. They very conveniently ignored the very words they spoke to Pilate during Jesus’ trial. Matthew 27:20-25 (WEB): 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 But the governor answered them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!” 22 Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do to Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let him be crucified!” 23 But the governor said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they cried out exceedingly, saying, “Let him be crucified!” 24 So when Pilate saw that nothing was being gained, but rather that a disturbance was starting, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this righteous person. You see to it.” 25 All the people answered, “May his blood be on us and on our children!” The chief priests and elders were there when Jesus was sentenced. And they all responded with, “His blood is on us and our children!” Now, a few months later, however, they don’t want that responsibility. They don’t want to be known as being responsible for Jesus’ death and they’re angry at the Apostles for saying that they killed Jesus. The Apostles, however, stand by what they said last time Peter and John were before the Sanhedrin. They declared that they would continue to tell the truth of what happened, no matter the consequences. “We must obey God rather than human beings!” They were willing to die for the truth. Then, while many were furious and screaming for the Apostles’ blood, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, ordered the Apostles be put outside so he could talk to the Sanhedrin. This, by the way, is the same Gamaliel whom Paul studied under. Gamaliel gives two examples of revolts led by men, in both, when the leader died, the revolt failed. He likens Christianity to those revolts. He tells them that Jesus, the leader of this “Christian” movement has been killed. If this revolt is a man made thing, it will soon die. However, if it’s from God, Gamaliel warns them, they won’t be able to stop the Apostles. They’ll only find themselves fighting against God. So they had the Apostles flogged and ordered them again not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The Apostles left, and, this is amazing, they rejoiced because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Jesus! And they continued to teach and proclaim the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. When I read this account, two things really stand out to me. Gamaliel’s words: “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” The Apostles rejoiced because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for Jesus’ name. What is so incredible is how these two things work together. When we face persecution for our faith, those persecuting us aren’t just going against us, they’re fighting against God! Think about that. Any attack you’ve ever had against your faith isn’t just against you, it’s against God! We’re not alone. Far from it! If we keep focused on God in those times, if we continue to seek to follow Him, we’re not fighting by ourselves. We’re not going to lose because the fight isn’t against us, it’s against God Himself. If we forget that, if we forget whose side we’re on, it makes the second point very difficult to do. It’s not easy to rejoice over suffering, no matter how subtle that suffering might be. And the Apostles persecution was far from subtle. They were flogged, meaning they were stripped down to practically nothing and whipped probably 39 times—one less than the legal limit of 40. They were all in incredible pain. And yet… they rejoiced. “We’ve been counted worthy of suffering for Jesus!” But what does “counted worthy” mean? See, they were persecuted because they refused to stop speaking about Jesus. They spoke about him to huge crowds in public places, they demonstrated God’s love and God’s truth. The result of that was people gave their lives to Jesus. In other words, the devil started losing numbers. He’d convinced many that Jesus wasn’t God, but now? They were seeing the truth, and giving their lives to Jesus. They were repenting of their sins and followed God. Those men and women in turn told others the truth about Jesus. And so, people the devil had trapped with the lure of money, lust and power, began to see that those things had never satisfied, they could never satisfy. There would always be a hole in their heart so long as they pursued them. What they discovered was that Jesus fills that hole. People realised that what they needed wasn’t more power, more money, more sex, it was God’s forgiveness and love. Thousands of people were realising that. Thousands of people were realising that all Satan told was lies, but the Apostles? The Apostles told the truth about God, the truth about Jesus, even though for many it’d have been hard to hear. And the way the Apostles spoke to and treated people demonstrated God’s love and compassion. They were letting the light of Jesus shine bright in their lives. And the world hated that. They were persecuted because they were allowing the Holy Spirit to make a difference through their lives. They were persecuted because they were boldly sharing the gospel. If they had hidden in a room and refused to utter a word about Jesus, they’d have been left alone… But they didn’t hide, they let the light of Christ shine brightly in their lives, without covering it, without hiding it. And they knew they were doing the right thing, they knew they were honouring God, because they began to suffer like Jesus had when he lived his life telling the world the truth that he was the son of God. Persecution to the Apostles was proof they were living lives that declared the truth about God. Two thousand years hasn’t changed what persecution means Today, persecution is still proof that we’re living lives that honour God. Persecution and suffering disgrace for Jesus’ name is still something to rejoice about. This is why it’s so important that we learn how to recognise persecution in all its many forms. Because if we tell ourselves that persecution is only physical danger, that would mean that many of us in the West haven’t been considered worthy of suffering disgrace for Jesus’ name. That would discourage me. I don’t want to suffer, but I do want to know that I’m on the right track, that I am honouring God with my life, not just thinking I am. And so we need to learn how to recognise persecution, not only so we can ask others to pray for us to have strength, as we talked about two weeks ago, but also so we can also rejoice that we’re being a light in the world. That Jesus’ love and truth is shining through our lives. Not rejoice because we’re in pain, because we’re suffering, but rejoice that we’ve been counted worthy of suffering like Jesus did. One of the ways to know we’re being bold in our faith is when the world tries to stop us from proclaiming the good news about Jesus. In some countries, that means the threat of physical harm, or prison. In other countries, that means insults, mocking, being ignored. Regardless of what persecution looks like, when the world discourages us from talking about Jesus, that’s when we know we’re on the right track. When we begin to suffer like Jesus did because we live like Jesus, we know we’re letting his light shine through us. And let me be clear, I’m only talking about when we’re persecuted because we’re teaching the truth about Jesus with love. I make that distinction because sadly there are many people who claim to believe in Jesus but they only show hate when they share the “truth.” Some of those people receive a lot of hate back, and so they cry out that they’re being persecuted. But if we treat someone with hate and they hate us back, the “persecution” we face is not proof that we’re worthy of suffering disgrace for Jesus’ name, or that we’re letting his light shine. It’s only proof that we’re being a horrible person. Rather, when we treat someone with love—and truth, in equal measure—and they or others hate us back, that is the persecution that’s proof we’re worthy of suffering disgrace for Jesus’ name. In other words, we need to be imitating Jesus before we can claim persecution is proof we’re doing life right. But when we are imitating Jesus and we face persecutions of any kind, we can rejoice, because then it’s proof that we’re living our lives like Jesus. How is it proof? Because the world is treating us like it treated Jesus. That does not mean persecution is easy or that it won’t hurt. It will cause pain. But we can have courage because it’s a sign of something more. It’s a sign that we’re honouring God. And which is better, to please God? Or to please the world? Conclusion The Apostles rejoiced because they knew that in Heaven, Jesus was looking down on them with pride. They rejoiced because they knew that God was looking down on them and was pleased that they valued His son so much that they were willing to suffer the same way that Jesus suffered. The same is true for us today. We can rejoice in persecution, not because of the pain… But because we can know that God is pleased that we care so much for His son Jesus that we’re willing to suffer like Jesus did. And so that brings me to my challenge this week is: When you’re imitating Jesus with how you live your life and you face persecution, remember why you’re suffering. You’re suffering because the world first hated Jesus. It’s not about you, it’s about Jesus. John 15:18. Remember also that the persecution you’re facing is a sign that you’re honouring God. Your life is reflecting God’s love, His grace, His forgiveness, and His mercy. The devil hates when our lives demonstrate that because it’s powerful, it’s so powerful, and it changes lives. And finally, rejoice. Not in the pain itself, but rejoice that God is pleased with you because you’re willing to endure the same pain that His Son Jesus endured. Leave your comments and questions below, but please abide by the Code of Conduct.The post Episode 9 Are you willing to suffer for the sake of Jesus’ name? first appeared on God's Word, Today's World.
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