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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Holy Spirit Revival

Holy Spirit Revival

In Acts chapter nineteen we read that when Paul arrived in Ephesus and began preaching about Jesus being the Savior, a large group of Ephesians believed in Jesus, repented of their sins and changed their whole way of living. Let’s read the story in Acts.

“The name of Jesus was held in high honor to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus. And many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A large number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas (a vast sum -fifty thousand pieces of silver). In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” (Acts 19:17b-20)

This revival in Ephesus was a red hot Holy Spirit revival. Nothing lukewarm about it! When the people of Ephesus believed in Jesus they completely made a break with the way they had been living their lives in the past. We see here in Acts 19 that in mass these new Christians publically confessed that what they had been doing was wrong, - the very way they had been making their living had been wrong. But now they knew better and were willing to change!

Since Jesus is the only Way, they needed to reject this false way, this occult power that wasn’t of God. They couldn’t follow Jesus and follow the occult too! It was clear they had to make a choice. So a large crowd of excited new believers brought their idols and scrolls and secret formulas- the tools of their trade, and together they threw all of these expensive items into a huge bonfire in the middle of town for everyone to see. What a scene – so many Ephesians publically rejecting their professions and their livelihoods. So many new believers willingly renouncing the power of sorcery and burning their valuable magical items . Nothing like this had ever happened before! All of Ephesus was astir!

In the secular records of the time we read that Ephesus had the reputation of being a major center for the popular magical practices. It was also the center of worship of the goddess Diana. In fact the ruins of the temple of the goddess Diana in Ephesus are listed as one of the ancient wonders of the world. It would appear that many of the new Ephesian believers had been earning a good living by practicing magic, casting spells and making magic potions. And now they were giving up their lucrative professions as magicians to follow Jesus.

These new Christians might lose money while they were finding another line of work, but that didn’t matter! They might not make as much money in the future learning another trade, but they didn’t care. Money didn’t matter! Security didn’t count! They would sacrifice it all in order to follow Jesus, the Pearl of great price! A real revival was happening!

The impact that Paul and these Christians had on the people who lived in the surrounding countryside was significant. The news of the huge bonfire in Ephesus spread and many other people were throwing away their idols and coming to Jesus. Christianity was spreading throughout Asia and southern Europe! Scripture says: “All who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 19:10b)

Paul stayed and preached in Ephesus for several years and God blessed his ministry and blessed the new believers in Ephesus with many miracles and healings. Let’s listen to how Scripture tells it. “Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul. So that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.” (Acts 19:11-12) I like to believe that God drew near to the Ephesian believers and to Paul because they drew near to Him.

But whenever the kingdom of God is advancing, persecution from Satan is sure to follow. And it didn’t take long for persecution to show up in Ephesus. Thousands of Ephesians were turning from idol worship and following Christ. Real revival was changing the fabric of the Ephesian economy. When part of a culture is changed, everything is affected. And people don’t like change, especially when it affects their money or their power. “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) So there was anger in Ephesus. The craftsmen and silversmiths were upset that all of these new Christians were no longer hiring them to make more idols. With so many thousands becoming Christian, their businesses in Ephesus were being affected. Let’s hear what Scripture says about this.

“About this time there arose a great commotion about the Way (Christianity). For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. He called the craftsmen together and said: ‘Men you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned many people, saying that these idols are not gods which are made with hands. So not only is our trade in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.’” (Acts19:23-27)

The angry craftsmen ran through the streets spreading fears and stirring up the crowds. Soon a furious mob began shouting, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians’ and a riot began. More crowds joined in and accused Paul and the Christians in Ephesus of starting an illegal new religion and undermining their goddess Diana. Finally after a day of rioting, the city clerk was able to calm the unruly crowd, but Paul had to leave Ephesus to avoid more trouble.

Before Paul had come to Ephesus he had started a Christian church in Corinth and he had been attacked and taken to court and later driven out of that city. And then after the riots drove him out of Ephesus he went to Macedonia to preach. And there were more plots against him there and the persecutions continued. Wherever Paul preached and people believed in Jesus, persecution and trouble were sure to follow. Jesus had warned us of persecution. It is just part of the territory.

Are we sometimes jealous when we hear about the healings and the conversions that accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys into Greece and Asia? When we read the book of Acts we are struck with the fact that the Holy Spirit moved with great power through all of the churches. Don’t we sometimes wish that we could see that kind of power in our churches today?

But along with the Holy Spirit power comes the many persecutions. There was always a price to pay and those early Christians were willing to pay it. Are we willing to pay the price? Most of the early Christians in that day were also willing to give up their safety, their money and their reputations to follow Jesus. What are we willing to give up?

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Sheep and the Goats

The Sheep and the Goats

(Matthew 25:31-46)

In the Bible we are given a glimpse ahead into the future - a preview of an event that we are able to read about today while knowing that it won’t happen until later. The time is at the end of the age when Jesus comes back in His glory with all of His angels. The place is the great white throne in heaven. And the event is the final judgment - a somber and serious day! The purpose of the final judgment is to determine who will be allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven and who will be left out.

You and I will be there; and we will be judged along with the rest. Scripture prophecies: “All the nations will be gathered there” (Matthew 25:32a) And the Bible prophecy continues telling of how all the peoples down through the ages who have ever lived on this planet will all be standing there together before the great white throne. And Jesus will separate all the people in the world into just two groups, a group to stand on His right and a group to stand on His left. A group that will be allowed to enter heaven and a group that won’t. The sheep and the goats!

Let’s listen to the story from the Bible. “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him. And he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. Then the King will say to those on His right. ‘Come you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ The king will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.’

Then He will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me. I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

Were we given this prophecy of our future judgment day – as an encouragement to us to be more generous while we are here on earth? How does one become more generous? How does one become a sheep? Or a goat? Would a goat be someone who is selfish and usually only thinks of himself?

We remember that Adam and Eves’ son, Cain, asked God this question, “Am I my brothers’ keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) And of course the correct answer is, “Yes, you are your brothers’ keeper.” Scripture says: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he/she who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) It would seem that the people who turned their backs on the poor in this life may be labeled as the “goats” in the next life.

And who are the sheep? Scripture says that: “My sheep hear My voice and they follow Me.” (John 10:27) The Bible tells us that if we believe in Jesus as our Savior and repent of our sins that we belong to Him. And when we belong to Jesus we are His sheep and we receive the Holy Spirit. And one of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to speak to us. So as sheep we do hear Jesus’ voice since the Holy Spirit is in us speaking to us.

And as sheep, Scripture also says that when we hear His voice we will follow Him. And if we love Jesus we will try to do what He wants us to do. So if we say that we belong to Jesus but yet we never do what is in our power to do to stop the suffering of our neighbor, do we really belong to Jesus? Since we are meant to bear fruit, are we really Christian (a sheep) if there is no fruit of compassion on our tree? Do we just look like sheep but really are wolves in sheep’s clothing? Could we just be faking our sheep hood?

Scripture says that we are Jesus’ body. (1 Cor. 12:12-26) We are His hands and feet. When another person is in need we are privileged to be able to be used by our Lord to help meet that need. Scripture says that when Jesus tells the sheep that they took care of Him when He was in trouble; they were surprised and asked Him when they had helped Him. “The righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?” (Matthew 15:37) Amazingly it seems that the sheep aren’t even aware that they have done good deeds in order to get rewards in heaven. They are just living their normal sheep like life and doing what the Holy Spirit is telling them to do.

Not just in Matthew 25, but everywhere in Scripture God is telling us to take care of the poor. When Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, He has a righteous priest, hurrying past the injured man lying in the dirt. The priest might be late for church if he stopped to help. And Jesus has the hated Samaritan (Everyone knew that Samaritans were heathens!) stopping and caring for the wounded and bleeding traveler. In Jesus’ story the ugly Samaritan was the sheep and the godly priest rushing to church was the goat! The world is turned upside down!

When we stand there before the great white throne on that final judgment day, the world may also be turned upside down. We may be in for some big surprises. Some of the goody goods who we always thought were sheep, may end up as goats instead. And some of the folks that we figured were no good nothings may just be sheep after all. The only question Jesus asks us on that day is how did we treat the poor! How will your life have answered His question? When you stand before Jesus, will He put you on His right side or on His left? Enter the kingdom or be left out? Sheep or goat, what will it be?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Paul's Second Missionary Journey

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey

Paul and Silas, along with Timothy had planned to go to Asia and preach on Paul’s second missionary journey. But God seemed to be telling them that it was the wrong time to go. We don’t know how they knew they shouldn’t go into Asia at that time. All Scripture says is: “they were forbidden at that time by the Holy Spirit to preach the Word in Asia.” (Acts 16:6b) Scripture says that Paul, Silas and Timothy kept going. I am sure that they were asking God to guide them and were waiting for His further directions.

When God closes one door He usually opens another one. So soon after that Paul had a vision while he was sleeping. “A man from Macedonia (Greece) stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’”. (Acts 16:9b)

So Paul, Silas and Timothy headed off for Macedonia (Greece). It must have been exciting to follow Gods’ leading and to know that they were part of Gods’ plan. Paul, Silas and Timothy walked to Philippi, which was one of the main cities in Macedonia and settled in.

Usually when Paul and his helpers arrived in a city they would go to the synagogue and preach, but they couldn’t do that this time because there was no synagogue in Philippi. Instead a group of Jewish women and God fearing gentiles held prayer meetings at a spot outside the city down by the river. Paul, Silas and Timothy joined the prayer meetings at the river and soon Paul was opening the Scriptures and showing this prayer group how the Scriptures prove that Jesus is the Savior. Lydia, a gentile woman who sold purple dye, was one of the first to believe in Jesus. But many others at the riverside prayer meeting believed in Jesus along with her. Lydia and her whole family were baptized and she invited Paul, Silas and Timothy to stay at her house while they were preaching in Philippi.

Paul, Silas and Timothy settled into Lydia’s home and continued going to the prayer meetings and telling everyone that Jesus is Savior. One day as they were going to one of the riverside prayer meetings they were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of fortune-telling. Scripture says that this girl “earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.” (Acts 16:16b) `The girl with the spirit followed Paul and Silas and Timothy everywhere they went. She shouted after them “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” (Acts 16:17b)

Even thought this young girl shouted the truth about Paul and the others, she was really mocking them. Everywhere they went the slave girl followed close behind screaming and yelling. “She kept this up for many days and finally Paul became so troubled 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.” (Acts 16:18)

The spirit came out of the girl and she quit shouting at Paul and Silas. She could no longer tell fortunes and her owners were really angry. “When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.” (Acts 16:19) The girl’s owner accused Paul and Silas of preaching about Jesus which they insisted was unlawful. Roman subjects were not supposed to have any other king besides Caesar and perhaps Paul and Silas were teaching the Philippians that Jesus was king instead of Caesar. The magistrates agreed that Paul and Silas were dangerous and the slave girls’ owners stirred up a crowd against them. The mob gathered around shouting angrily. They grabbed Paul and Silas, tore off their clothes and beat them with rods. When they were bloody and badly beaten they threw them in prison where the jailer fastened their feet in the stocks. Poor Paul and Silas!

You would think that Paul and Silas would hate being chained with their feet in the stocks on the dirty prison floor. But Scripture tells a different story. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening in. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.” (Acts 16:25-26) Could the power of praise from Pauls’ and Silas’ lips have opened the prison doors?

The jailer came running in and when he saw that the prison doors were open he pulled out his sword and started to kill himself. Since the jailer was responsible for his prisoners, if they escaped, he would be killed. Paul called out to the jailer and told him not to worry! “All of us are still here and we won’t run away,” Paul assured him. The jailer was trembling as he got a light and tiptoed into the jail. “What must I do to be saved?” he asked Paul and Silas.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Paul answered. (Acts 16:31) The jailer took Paul and Silas into his house and washed their wounds and fed them a nice dinner. They preached the Word to the jailer and his family and told them that Jesus is the Savior. And the jailer and his whole family believed in Jesus and were baptized that very night. Scripture says: “He (the jailer) rejoiced greatly because he believed in God with all of his household.” (Acts 16:34b) There is always a lot of joy in being a Christian! Joy is one of the gifts of the Spirit that we receive when we believe in Jesus.

The next day the Philippian magistrates sent word to the jailer to let Paul and Silas go. Paul and Silas spent more time at Lydia’s house encouraging the new believers and then they said their goodbyes and left for their next destination – Thessalonica.

Paul’s plan was to stop at the large cities and plant churches. When they arrived in Thessalonica they did what they always did and started preaching in the local synagogue. Soon a large number of people both Jews and Gentiles believed in Jesus! And as usual the trouble came. It seems that Paul gets persecuted in nearly every city he goes to. “But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob and set all the city in an uproar…” (Acts 17:5a) Paul and Silas had to run away. They had started a large church but they had to leave it and flee Thessalonica so that the angry mob wouldn’t harm them. Paul and Silas fled to Berea where they stayed and preached and many Bereans came to the Lord.

On this second missionary journey Paul stopped in Athens along the way and preached in the Areopagus, which was a place where intellectuals came together to debate ideas. Athenians had for centuries been patrons of the arts, music, and free thinking. Athens was the only city where very few people came to Christ when Paul preached to them. There are no records of baptisms in all of Athens. We have the Thessalonian church, the Philippian church, the Corinthian church and the Ephesian church, but there was no Athenian church! The Athenians had their art and their literature. They had their great thinkers and their fashion and culture. But they didn’t want Jesus!

Perhaps few came to Christ when Paul preached in Athens because the intellectual Athenians considered the claims of Christ to be just another theory to debate. To become a Christian they would need to open their hearts and give their lives to Christ. But the sophisticated Athenians were only willing to debate the claims of Christ as an interesting idea: and that wasn’t enough.

When we read the book of Acts we see that when Paul preaches about Jesus he gets into trouble again and again. In Philippi he and Silas are beaten and thrown in jail because he casts an evil spirit out of a young girl. Instead of the Philippians being glad that a young girl in their town is no longer mentally ill, Paul and Silas are thrown in prison because without her mental illness the girl can no longer make her owners money. So money was the bottom line here. Do we Christians ever allow children in our midst to stay mired in their problems so that we can save money? Scripture says that we cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:19-24) And “The love of money is the root of all evil”. (1 Timothy 6:10) We have to love Jesus more than material possessions.

Scripture tells us that Paul suffered many persecutions because he obeyed Gods’ call and went traveling around Southern Europe bringing Christianity. And the Bible also says that every Christian (that means you and me) will be called on to suffer persecution as well. Does that mean that we will have as many problems as Paul had? Maybe not? In reading the book of Acts it does seem that often Paul got into more trouble than his helpers did. Paul was thrown out of several cities while the believers he left behind in those cities were tolerated. Was this because Paul was an apostle and signs, miracles and healings seemed to accompany his ministry more than they did for most of the other believers? We don’t have all the answers, do we? But we do know that when we follow Jesus we are told to take up our cross. That means that we can expect some persecution along the way. Are we ready to take it?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Jewish Christian Church Makes Room for the Gentiles

Paul's Vision of the Man from Macedonia

The Jewish Church Makes Room for the Gentiles

Paul and Barnabas had come back from their first missionary journey and they had made many Gentile converts along the way. More and more Gentiles were listening to the gospel and becoming disciples of Jesus. The first believers in Jesus had all been Jewish and of course they made up the first Christian (Jewish) church. These Jewish Christians had continued worshiping in the temple and following the laws of Moses as had been their custom.

But when the Gentiles began joining their ranks, the Jewish Christians needed to move over and make room for new ideas and different cultures. The Church was becoming multicultural now and having growing pains. Some of the Jewish Christians felt that the new Gentile believers should become circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law like they did. But was that what God wanted?

The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem got together and had a meeting which was one of the first church counsels. They needed the Holy Spirit’s guidance. They all prayed and fasted together and asked God what to do. Should the church continue keeping the laws of Moses and insist that the new Gentile Christians follow them too? Or should they change to make room for these new Gentile believers? There were strong willed church leaders in this meeting who disagreed with one another on the issue. But they loved each other and all wanted to be united in whatever they did. So after prayer, fasting and discussion they all decided together that the Holy Spirit was leading them to bend and change and not teach the new believers to follow the laws of Moses. The Law had given way to Grace. Instead they drew up a few simple rules for new Gentile Christians to live by. Keeping the church together was more important than having their own way.

Since Jews and Gentiles would be worshiping together, the leaders of the Jerusalem church (and the Holy Spirit) wanted all the new Jewish and Gentile believers to feel comfortable together and get along. The eating of bloody meat was offensive to the sensitive Jewish consciences. So the leaders ask the new Gentile Christians not to eat meat with blood in it. I think the rules were passed down to the new Christians to help them be considerate of their Jewish brother’s eating habits and to keep the peace. Each group had to change their ways a bit in order to accommodate the other.

Some Christians today are poor and some are rich, some are liberal and some conservative, some are vegans and some meat eaters – we modern day Christians have our differences too. But if we all believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are family. And if we are going to have fellowship with our family in Christ we need to be sensitive to one another and make room for our differences. Over and over in Scripture we are told to be peacemakers. Our love for one another and our unity is so important to the Lord. Perhaps the Holy Spirit might be telling us the same thing He told the early Church back then – to bend and change our ways a bit in order to accommodate one another.

When Paul left on his second missionary journey he was thrilled to be able to tell the new Gentile believers that they didn’t have to obey all of the laws of Moses in order to follow Christ. Jesus had fulfilled the law and had made them (and us) free from the law of sin and death.

Paul took Silas with him on this second missionary trip and they picked up Timothy on the way. Paul and Barnabas had disagreed on whether to take John Mark with them so Barnabas had not gone with Paul on the second trip. (Paul later admitted he had been wrong about John Mark)

Paul and Silas took off and were planning to go into Asia and preach on this second trip. Let’s listen to Scripture to find out why they didn’t go into Asia like they wanted to. “Now they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, but they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.” (Acts 16:6-7)

We don’t know how God (through the Holy Spirit) “forbade” Paul and Silas to go into Asia. The Bible doesn’t say. Scripture says that, “the steps of a good person are ordered by the Lord” (Psalm 37:23) So God has His own mysterious ways of leading us where we should go. God can speak to us through inner promptings or circumstances or through the Bible, or through the advice of other Christians. He can put the desire to do His will in our heart or His thoughts and ideas in our mind. The early Church made a practice of constantly praying, fasting and waiting on the Lord to discern His Will. We need to do the same – wait on the Lord and take time to listen for His Voice and seek His guidance.

Since God “forbade” Paul and Silas to preach in Asia, the two men kept on going and waited for more instructions from God. And of course God came through. “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia (northern Greece) stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia (Greece) and help us.’” (Acts 16:9) So God was telling Paul where they were to go next with the gospel through his dream.

Paul and Silas believed that God had spoken to them through the dream and they turned and headed towards Macedonia (Greece). The cities of Philippi and Thessalonica were in Greece and as we know, several large Christian churches were to spring up when Paul preached there. There were people there just waiting and ready to accept and believe the gospel. God was preparing the hearts of many Macedonians (Greeks) to believe in Jesus. And Paul and Silas were being used by God to tell them about Jesus. They were living the great adventure- letting God use them to bring salvation to the Gentiles.

Paul could have had many excuses not to go where God was leading him. He faced opposition and threats everywhere he went, but he kept going. The early Christians along with Paul were “on fire” for the Lord and they would do anything God asked them to do. They would change their ways of doing things, open their church to strange new people. They would take up their cross and follow. They would love each other and love the unlovable Gentiles (aren’t we glad they did) because that’s what God wanted. They would wait on the Lord and listen for His direction in their lives. They were living a great adventure with God and they left a great legacy. All of Southern Europe became Christian because Paul, Silas and Timothy gladly followed the leading of the Holy Spirit and preached the gospel there. We can live the great adventure today and let God use us to make a difference in our world like they did in theirs. All we need to do is to be willing.