Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Game On -- Acts 13

The church is beginning to develop very well outside of Jerusalem. More and more people are becoming followers of Jesus Christ and the spread of the church is well underway. Barnabas and Saul, who begins to be referred to as Paul in the passage, are called apart for missionary journeys. The believers in Antioch anoint them and send them with God's blessing.

First stop, Cyprus. They find the synagogue and being to teach about Jesus. The end result is many new believers and many Jewish leaders angry. It seems whenever the Good News of Jesus is taught during the early years there are two main responses, acceptance or anger. After the first teaching time, Barnabas and Paul are invited to return. When they return almost the entire city comes to hear them. Can you imagine? It does not say that the Jews, or the God fearing Gentiles, no everyone. The religious people get jealous because they have never had that kind of turn out. With this trip to Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas declare game on, and the word of God is on the move throughout the provinces of Asia. A mighty move of God is borne out of proclamation, conviction and anger.

In our day and age we long to see this move. Our challenge is found in the fact that a third response to the Gospel has become very prevalent, apathy. When Christ is proclaimed some people become followers, others get mad or angry, while the vast majority seem to pass it off as something nice, but not really important. Is it because people are not spiritually minded anymore? Not even close. In fact people are seeking for something spiritual even more than ever, just look at the best selling books and movies. I wonder if it is because those who would claim to be "Christian" do not offer anything different from what is already experienced. People are seeking and all they are finding in most Christian circles is more of the same.

Paul and Barnabas, call people from the same old and into something new. Not only with their words but with the actions. When was the last time someone either decided to follow Jesus, or got angry because of your words and actions in Christ? When was the last time people saw little to no difference between you and the life they are currently living?

I pray the church will rise up and be the Gospel in ways that will move people from a comfortable apathy. May the church take our lead from Paul and the other early believers and live in such a way that people are drawn to Christ. may we join the mission or spreading the Good News across the land with words and actions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shaking Nations -- Acts 12

Whenever the work of God begins to gain ground it seems there is no shortage of people who will work to slow that work down. Herod Agrippa began to plat the role of persecuting the growing church. One disciple was put to death and Peter was imprisoned. The night before Peter was going to be made an example of, and a tool of pleasing the religious leaders, the believers were together praying. The Lord delivers Peter from captivity, and shakes the very structures of the earthly leadership.

I wonder if we pray like that in our day? These were followers of Christ who prayed so earnestly that the structures of the government were overturned. After the escape of Peter, Herod leaves the city. Eventually, Herod dies because he accepts the worship of the people instead of pointing them to God. I also find it fascinating that Peter is not afraid of the angel of the Lord. The presence of the angel is so common, Peter thinks it is a dream, or a vision about what will happen. This shows how closely Peter walked with God. Not that he took it for granted, Peter simply thought the presence of God, and the servants of God to be normal. Do we?

Is it possible the two issues go together? Ernest prayer that shakes nations, and the our closeness with God producing a life where the supernatural work and presence of God is normal. I hear people crying out for revival. I here people longing for a great move of the Holy Spirit. I too long for these things. Is their delay the result of God waiting, or of our not walking with God in such a way that we are ready? I know we say we are ready, but are we. Are we so ready to tie our lives with God through Jesus Christ that we might be used to shake nations? This is one of the places where I think we are ready for the emotional rush, without the work to get us there.

Revival will in fact shake nations. However, for it to come to America, those who claim to follow Christ, will need to completely and total offer our lives to Christ. We can hold nothing back, we must be willing to place our very lives and livelihood on the line for the mission and call of God. That is what produces prayer that shakes nations. Are we ready?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Resist the Pull -- Acts 11

Right after his time with the Roman military leader where the Spirit of God was a work, Peter returns to Jerusalem to report on what had happened. The other leaders in the church heard what Peter had to say and where he was ministering. Their first reaction was to condemn him for entering the house of a Gentile. Quickly Peter explained the vision God had given him, so they could see God was so much bigger than they draw up in their own minds.

Here we have the church in its early stages, no more than a few years old and already they have begun to pick up the patterns of the religious leaders Jesus was often at odds with. Quickly there was a move for humans to determine who God could be at work with. Peter had told them a the great move of God, all they could see was the fact he was in a Gentile home, a place a good Jew was not to be. However, once Peter explains the the vision, the group quickly realizes God is bigger than they allow from time to time. The result is the dispatch of Barnabas to Antioch.

There is a strange thing in human nature. We like to develop lists of those who are in and those who are not. We might think those who have been on the out would not generate such thoughts and lists, yet we do. A great challenge in the church is to resist the pull toward generating an in and out list. The kingdom of God is so much bigger than we often allow for. This does not mean that we ignore the standards God has placed before us for the health of our relationship with God. The Body cannot simply become an anything goes place. Still, we must leave more room for God to work than we often do.

There is a great pull to think we are God, or even more dangerous, to think we know perfectly the mind of God. The reality is, God is God, not us, and we only see a poor reflection of God. It is important to leave enough room for God to be God. If Peter would have simply ignored the vision God gave him because it was not consistent with what he believed, there would have been a big problem for Peter. Yet Peter allowed God to be God, and the territory or people God was claiming to be much larger than he thought.

Is your God too small and narrow?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Listen to God Not Ritual -- Acts 10

So the Roman Captain is minding his own business going about his day when an angel of the Lord appears to him. The command is to beacon Peter to come. Peter a day later has a vision from God about what is acceptable and what is not. Peter thinks he knows the mind of God on such things until God challenges him to broaden his understanding.

Peter is clear that as a fisherman, a disciple of Jesus, and even now has never eaten anything considered unclean by the Jewish law. When God says kill and eat, Peter objects because they are unclean animals. God asks Peter if he will listen to God, or if he will listen to ritual and rule. Not an easy question. This is so much more than simply a question of what is for dinner.

We as humanity are really good at determining what it appropriate and what is not. Those in the world of the church have gotten it down to a science in terms of this is what the Lord says. Peter found himself in that very place, only he was pitting his understanding of the law and teachings of God, against God. The tradition and ritual were deeply rooted in what was given to the people, Israel, thousands of years before. So had God changed? No, the way people followed God had changed. People showed their devotion to God by obeying the law set forth through Moses. Now humanity showed their devotion to God by following the teachings and life of Jesus.

As we look at Jesus all the deeply held rules and rituals were challenged. Jesus ate with unclean people. The line between acceptable and not was clearly blurred by Jesus. Peter was being reminded by God that the possibilities are far greater than ever imagined. The boundaries drawn by human hands are not the ones God draws. Keeping our lives in tune with God will allow us to more clearly hear what God is calling us to. We should listen to God more than we listen to the rituals and laws of the church. This is dangerous and many have used this kind of reasoning to pervert the Gospel in profound ways. This is why community matters. A community will all us to test what it is we are thinking and feeling. If it is what God is calling, we will more than likely not be the only ones who are hearing, if others are listening for God as well.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Didn't See That Coming -- Acts 9

Saul, who later be known as Paul, could be considered the most influential person in the church since Jesus Christ. The story of Paul is well known, and even could be considered commonplace among many in the Western world. Because of our familiarity it is easy to lose sight of what really happened on the road to Damascus.

Saul, was one of the officials overseeing the death of Stephen. In a short amount of time he had built quite a reputation as one who would do anything to oppose the Way of Christ. To say he was an enemy of the church is an understatement. Armed with a letters of permission to take into custody those who follow Christ, Saul went to Damascus filled with hate. Then he met Jesus face to face.

The one who was most noted for stopping the church is now known as one of the greatest builder of the church. No wonder the believers were skeptical. Who would have thought Saul would ever be a follower of Jesus? The humanity of the church had written Saul off I am sure. I wonder how often we write people off as non-redeemable, only to find they are great servants of God? I am reminded God sees people different than I do. When I see a person who appears to be damaging the church, God sees a person who can be used to build the church.

I wonder what would happen if I began to see people more with the eyes of God, and less with my human eyes. Each person is a unique creation of God, and that person was created for a godly purpose. All of us are a poor reflection of the purpose we were created for, and must allow God to cut and polish the gem created in each of us. Some are simply in a more raw state than others. Who in your life right now are you having trouble seeing as a potential Paul?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pressing On -- Acts 8

As we read through Acts chapter 8 we find many great stories of how the church began to expand. The move of the Holy Spirit is taking the church of Jesus Christ to new places and more and more people are committing to become followers of Jesus. We find Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip walks him through the scriptures, by the end of the account there has been a baptism and a receiving of the Holy Spirit. The power of God is on full display in this chapter. I wonder if we missed the first couple of verses, " A great wave of persecution began that day...".

With the death of Stephen, those who were opposing the Way of Christ gained strength and boldness. We are told Saul went from house to house putting in jail those who followed the Way. The believers scattered all across the region for fear of those who were working to keep the church at bay. This is the backdrop of the great expansion of the church. It was not found in cultural acceptance. Nor was it found in having the officials of government being the right persons who believe just like the church. I was not initiated by the religious leaders, those who had the greatest ability to influence of broken system and world. No the great expansion of the church happened in while great persecution was breaking out upon the church.

It is easy to press on when things are going well and easy. When the going gets more difficult, the tendency is to want to give up. When our culture seems to be shifting away from God and toward our own appetites, when it seems there are more and more people who would rather see Jesus out of the equation, the church must press on! I am not sure we are at a time of great persecution like in Acts 8 here in America. There are places in the church today where they have been for years. However it is getting more and more difficult to seek the Way of Jesus, both inside and outside the church. The leaders of denominations will not change the trajectory, nor will the leaders of government. The great expansion of the church continues all over the world, except here in America. Could it be the church is willing to sit back and let it happen? The time has come to press on. Stephen and Philip were not leaders of the church, they were appointed as servants. They were like you and I. They pressed on and God used them for great works, in their day and now. Are we ready to press on?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Stephen's Day In Court -- Acts 7

There Stephen stands with the charges against him. the crowd claimed he was teaching things contrary to the ways of Moses and the prophets. Rather than begin the ritual of did not, did too, Stephen takes his day in court and shows what he has been teaching. As far as teaching about the people called Israel, it is impeccable. Abraham, Issac, Joseph, right up to Moses. I am sure the council hearing Stephen were wondering what the issue was. It seemed what Stephen was saying was complete orthodoxy. Then comes the twist, the accusation. For that Stephen pays with his life, while many watch, including Saul, later known as Paul.

How many of us would have used this course of action? There are two ways this would most likely play out in our culture. First many would not even think to recount the very story we are accused of misrepresenting. Second, many of us would not be willing to put the harsh accusation at the end. Stephen was clearly showing he knew the story God had written with the people of Israel. Showing the accusations against him we unfounded. He probably could have stopped before the accusation and been just fine. However, Stephen knew there was the rest of the story. With boldness, he proclaims the full story of God.

An often overlooked portion of the passage is the fact that Stephen kept himself fully connecting with God through Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This was not merely Stephen speaking, it was the boldness of the Holy Spirit. Often we speak with our own boldness and create a situation where we are on our own more than following after God. The strength showed by Stephen continued to prove he understood the story of God perfectly. Though the result was an earthly death, the kingdom implications continue to shout today. Stephen boldly stood for Christ when there was a lot of pressure to back away. Are we ready to stand?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Know Your Gift and Calling -- Acts 6

As I read through Acts 6 there are a few things I am not surprised by and a few things which catch me off guard. It is no surprise that as the number of believers grew there was some grumbling. Further it is no surprise the leaders of the church had a plan to address the grumbling. My first shock comes when the leaders say they should be focused on the scriptures, teaching and leading the church, not administering a food program. My first read of this causes me to think of the leaders as arrogant, and unwilling to do whatever it takes for the ministry to continue. Further reflection reveals a possibility just below the surface.

Each one of us is gifted and called by God. You and I are both uniquely designed and created for a purpose in God's kingdom. In order for us to fulfill the calling and live out our gifts we first must identify those gifts. This is more than simply taking a class, though that can be helpful, it is a process of discerning the heart of God. Once we feel as though we have grasped, even in a small form, what it is God has gifted and call us to we must pursue it.

The leaders of the church in Acts 6 understood who God had called them to be, and where their gifting was found. Could they have administered the food program? Yes. Would that have been the best use of the calling and gifts God has given? No. The people selected to administer the food to the widows were people who were called to such a ministry, and God gifted them for it as well. Had the leaders of the church simply stepped in to lead the food distribution, who would have kept the words of Scripture in front of the people?

Second but not secondary is the matter of excellence. The leaders could have done it, however my guess is the people lifted up by the Holy Spirit did a much better job. When we function out of our calling and giftedness, we function better. This is not to say we never function outside of our calling and giftedness, there are times when we are called to that. Still a bulk of our effort should be spent doing that which God has called us to, and gifted us for. This is why the church leaders would not administer the food program. It was not out of arrogance or pride, it was out of recognizing the calling and gifting of all God's people.

How about you? Are you doing what God has called and gifted you for?