Wednesday, January 31, 2018

eschatology, Qualities of the Church (Acts 2-12)

Today's takeaway is included in all the things mentioned below (which is certainly not a comprehensive list, but things which stood out to me as I read through Acts, chapters 2 to 12).  The Church was established quite quickly, and with that came a few qualities, for which all believers are accountable:

1. SPIRIT-LED: churches do not have to come out of cookie-cutter-molds!  There are different cultures and styles, and that is okay.  For example, churches do not have to have a commune-style where everyone is selling and sharing everything.  The spirit in the message below is that we should be generous and look out for each other.  The mark of a true church is when the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit are evident...

(Acts 2:40-47)  And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer
43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

2.  ORGANIZED:  sadly, I have heard even Christians use this as an excuse as to why they don't attend church (because they don't like "institutions"), yet mankind loves to institutionalize everything with best-practices and procedures, developing pipelines and mission statements!  This happens everywhere: businesses, social clubs, sports and gyms...  There is nothing wrong with being organized so that important details are not neglected.  It is simply practical!  Can one be overly "organized"? - sure - but God, Himself, is organized! (1 Cor.14:33)...

(Acts 6:1-4)  Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

3.  MISSIONARY-MINDED, and ACCEPTING OF ALL RACES:  simply put - the Church should not be racist, and should be telling everyone and anyone the good news, as opportunity presents itself, wherever we are and wherever we go...

(Acts 8:26-30)  But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27 So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”...
(Acts.8:34-38)  The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 37 [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] 38 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.

4.  COURAGEOUS:  I was looking for a word here that describes how the Church should not be self-righteous, bitter, or skeptical of how God can work in any person's life.  Saul, who became known as apostle Paul, had been persecuting Christians and having them tortured and even put to death, when God not only saved him, but used him in a mighty way!

We are told to be aware of wolves in sheep's clothing, but at the same time we need to, in God's love and wisdom, test the spirits so that we do not discourage or attack a fellow believer.  I remember when certain notorious people in my hometown became Christians, I overheard various people say, "Well, I wonder just how long THAT will last."  How ungracious is that???  We should be rallying around new converts in order to mentor and encourage them to grow spiritually and remain faithful and steadfast...

(Acts 9:19b-22)  Now for several days he (PAUL) was with the disciples who were at Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ...
(Acts 9:26-27)  When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.

5.  GRACIOUS:  Christianity is not about do's and don't's, but about having a relationship with Jesus, therefore the Church and its members should avoid becoming legalistic or judgmental.  People can be very sincere, but very sincerely wrong in their efforts to "stamp out sin" and "live righteously".

I have seen Matthew 18:15-20 abused and taken out of context.  This should only be applied to those believers who are defiantly and/or continuously exercising a sinful behavior, which is hurting them and/or others.  Although the first part of that scripture is very applicable to all circumstances whenever there is a misunderstanding - don't gossip - but go to that person and speak with them in private in order to work it out in a spirit of love!

Another issue that can arise is when believers become super-sensitive and feel like they have to approach anyone who has "offended" them in order to point out all their mistakes.  Having a critical spirit such as this is wrong.  As Christians, we actually should have a thick stomach - while still being tenderhearted and sensitive to others.

We need to look at the logs in our own eyes.  And we need to make sure if we are going to point out someone's sin - to make sure it is an actual sin - and NOT just a personal preference of ours.  So here in the scriptures we see how God is challenging the Israelites who have become believers (including the disciples) to now live in freedom from the law and live in God's grace...

(Acts 11:1-23)  Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me,and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a voice from heaven answered a second time, What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ 10 This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky. 11 And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14 and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”
19 So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. 23 Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord

6.  A HOUSE OF PRAYER:  something I've learned in the last few years - is that - we should never underestimate God and His power!  Also, I've learned to stop saying, "JUST" when I say, "All we can do is pray."  Ah! prayer is awesome and necessary!  We are to pray without ceasing - meaning - we should be praying for and about everything!  I find this last portion of scripture a little humorous, because in essence, I've "been-there-done-that"!

Peter had been thrown into prison, and the body of believers were praying for his release;  but when their prayers were answered (in a way that was unexpected) it took them a while to realize what God had done.  We should not be surprised that God answers prayer, but pray with faith and confidence for God's will to be done...

(Acts 12:5-16)  So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.  On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” 12 And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, “It is his angel.” 16 But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

eschatology, Persecution & Time of Refreshing (Acts 3-4)

Because the Israelites had not recognized Jesus as their Prophet and Messiah while He was there on earth, they still were waiting;  so when they saw Peter and John healing a cripple, they got very excited...

(Acts 2:1-16)  Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hourthe hour of prayer. And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!”And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God; 10 and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
11 While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement. 12 But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. 16 And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all..."

Peter puts the Old Testament scriptures and prophesies and covenants all together in a nutshell - become believers - and when this happens as a nation, and all things prophesied regarding the Tribulation has happened - then Jesus will come AGAIN to set up the Millennial kingdom and fulfill their covenants...

(Acts 2:17-26)  “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. 18 But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19 Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20 and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you21 whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. 23 And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ 24 And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. 25 It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26 For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”

You kind of want to laugh.  Here the spiritual leaders had put Jesus to death and figured that THAT would stop "the madness" - but the whole "movement" kept growing and getting stronger...

(Acts 4:1-4)  As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

Both spiritual leaders, Annas and Caiaphas, had been around when Jesus walked the earth - and now they were dealing with Peter and the other disciples, and so many more converts!  It was obvious that they were not about to accept the gospel message, but continue to fight it - even though they were seeing miracles happen, and hearing uneducated men accurately preaching the scriptures (which were not accessible to regular people, except to hear them being read in the temples)...

(Acts 5:5-35)  On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the buildersbut which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
13 Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. 15 But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.” 18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22 for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.
23 When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,
Why did the Gentiles rageAnd the peoples devise futile things?
26 The kings of the earth took their standAnd the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord and against His Christ.’
27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29 And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.
32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

Today's takeaway: it is encouraging to see how honest the disciples were about the threats of persecution - and to see that it only unified and strengthened the believers in God's wisdom and power!  It is still this way today.  The Church is VERY strong in countries where there is severe persecution.  These situations will certainly weed out the "chaff" - I mean - who is going to just go through the motions of looking like a Christian if it means possible death?  And when people see such a strong opposition to something - one becomes curious to know more.  Especially if they see a neighbor living in love, strength, confidence and a spiritual freedom, rather than living in fear.

"Comfort" is our enemy!  In times of peace, it is so easy to begin to take God for granted.  Notice how in times of war, people will flock to church.  Not that we have to go out and seek persecution.  In fact we are to pray for peace and safety, and that we will be delivered from evil.  God always remains just, fair, logical and loving!

Now here's a thought!  It could be easy for a Christian to become fearful of persecution, because the Bible speaks about the great possibility of that.  BUT - look around us.  There is suffering and persecution in this fallen world - no matter what.  Suffering does not just happen to believers, but to unbelievers as well.  The differences should be - WHY is someone suffering?  And - HOW does the person get through that?...

(1 Peter 3:14-17)  Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.