Thursday, October 27, 2011

Acts 13

Called – Acts 13:1-3

God’s heart is all through this chapter and He wants the gospel shared where ever we go.  How open are you to introduce Jesus to others?  Jesus was introduced to ordinary men as well as influential leaders.   God did this through believers as in Paul and Barnabas.  There was a change in church leadership at Antioch.  The leaders were Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Saul.  All were diverse leaders, but God created a oneness, the secret of Christ.  There were two spiritual gifts - teaching and prophesying.  As they prayed and fasted, they received instructions from the Holy Spirit.  (Fasting means going without something for a time to focus on the Lord.)

1.      The Holy Spirit called attentive believers to do God’s work.

They were available, surrendered to the Holy Spirit, and their hearts desired to be in the center of God’s will.  Does that describe you?  He set apart Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 13:2)  What does He want you to set apart for His use?

Are you serving without being called by the Holy Spirit?  A ministry outside God’s will is likely not to be fruitful.  He has a work for everyone who receives salvation. 

Opposed – Acts 13:4-12

2.     The Holy Spirit guides us where God wants us to go.

Barnabas and Saul were sent on their way for the first missionary journeys.  When they left Antioch, they went to Seleucia and then sailed to Cyprus.  There a sorcerer and false prophet named Elymas  opposed them.  He was full of the devil, deceit, and trickery.  Saul by the power of God blinded him and brought him to believe through his teaching.

3.     The enemy of God does not want Jesus personally known.

The enemy wants to keep people, especially leaders and anyone with influence from God.  He doesn’t want people to depend on God.  He wants to keep you from the presence and power of God.  He works against you, not for you.  So put on the full armor of God and stand your guard.  That’s what Paul and Barnabas did.

Disappointed – Acts 13:13

They traveled the whole island of Paphos, and then to Perga were Mark left them and went back to Jerusalem.  It is not known why he left.  Perhaps there was a disagreement.  Maybe he was homesick, ill, or couldn’t stand the hardships.  When he left, he lost Paul’s trust and became unreliable.

4.     The spread of the gospel requires faithful commitment in the face of personal difficulty.

Even today we choose not to show up when we don’t feel like it or it doesn’t fit our schedule.  Paul modeled commitment, doing whatever God asked.  If you know you’ve been called by God, don’t quit!

Mark did get back on track.  He earned Paul’s trust again and wrote the book of Mark.  How do you allow mistakes to get you back to God?  How do you respond to others who make mistakes and return to God?   Giving up creates a hardship for others.  Our choice impacts others. 

Kept going with joy – Acts 13:14-52

From Perga they went to Pisidian Antioch.  Paul was asked to speak at the synagogue.  In his messages he gave historical references leading to the Messiah, which could not be denied.  He told of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the message of salvation.  All of which was supported by the Old Testament scriptures quoting passages from Psalms and Isaiah.

The response was mixed.  Some came back to hear more.  Some Jews rejected the message.  Paul and Barnabas said (Acts 13:46) “We had to speak the word of God to you first.  Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”  (Acts 13:48) “When the Gentiles heard this, they were honored and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”

(Acts 13:38-41) Paul message went on to say we are made righteous by Jesus and through Him everyone who believes is justified.  He warns them to not just wonder about Jesus and do nothing or they will perish.  We can’t remain on the fence or we will suffer eternity in Hell.  There are 2 places to go from here – Heaven or Hell forever and ever.  Where are you going?

The word spread, but some Jews stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their region.  So Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and left.  (Note: When Jews would leave a Gentile land, they would shake the dust off their feet to not take any dirt from the land.)  This is what Paul and Barnabas did to the Jews as a protest saying the Jews were no different than pagans.  This did not discourage the disciples.  They were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:52)

5.     Spirit filled believers can experience joy in the mist of suffering.

Where would you be in this story?  Would you be asking for more truth?  Where would you go after this life, if this were it - Heaven or Hell?  The power of the living God is available to you.  Are you living with jealousy?  Concerned how life will change, if you let Jesus in your heart?  Are you being expelled?  Look how they handled it.  You may have to forgive someone.  You can keep on going with joy and not anger.

Note:  (The name change of Saul to Paul is not clear and we do not know why it changed, but Acts 13:9 says, “Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit…”.   Maybe he changed it so the Gentiles would accept him better or maybe it reflected his new life since he was now a new man.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Acts 9:31-12:25

(Acts 9:31-43)
Peter Heals the Paralytic and Tabitha
Verse 31 characterized the growing church as a time of peace.  It was strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit.  It grew and lived in fear (wisdom) of the Lord. 

What would it take for the church today to look like the 1st century church?
Is your church at peace and growing? 
Do you complain about trivial things and cause dissention and agreements in the church?

As Peter traveled and spread the good news and healed many.  He healed a paralytic who had been bedridden for 8 years.  A disciple named Tabitha was sick and died.  Peter prayed and she lived again.  Many believed as result of these miracles. 
Two miracles of physical healing tell us at least 2 things:
1.   Only through faith in Jesus can the apostles heal and only through faith in Jesus can we be healed (Mark10:52, Luke 7:50, 18:42).
2.   Just as Jesus can bring us comfort by physical healing here on earth, He can bring spiritual healing.  Without Him all are spiritually dead.

(Acts 10:1 - 11:18)
Cornelius (the Gentile)
Cornelius was a Greek and good and religious man.  He was highly respect by the Jewish people.  He and his whole family worshiped God.  He was constantly praying and helping the poor.  One day he had a vision and an angel of God told him to send men to Joppa and bring back Peter.

Meanwhile, Peter was praying and had a vision.  Heaven opened and it looked like a large sheet coming down to earth filled with all kinds of animals.  A voice said, “Get up, Peter.  Kill and eat.”  Peter thought these were unclean since Old Testament law taught not to eat unclean animals and birds (Lev. 11, 17:10-14, 20:25) and forbade Jews to eat food with non-jews, but now God said nothing He made was impure or unclean.  This happened 3 times and Peter wondered what this meant.  Then the men sent by Cornelius ask Peter to go back with them as Cornelius had asked.

Jesus’ death changed the Old Testament law.  Peter now realized that God does not show favoritism and accepts men from every nation (Acts 10:35) - Jew or Gentile.  Does this mean that God accepts people from every nation in His family without belief in Christ?  No.  He is saying everyone is eligible.  (John 14:6) - Jesus said He is the only way. (Acts 4:12 ) – Salvation is found in no other.

Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house where his friends and family were waiting.  They expected something exciting to happen and it did.  Peter’s shared the gospel with them telling he and the other disciples were witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  While he was speaking, the Holy Spirit came down on them.  They were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles.  “For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” (Acts 10:44)  This was like a confirmation of the Holy Spirit which was important in that day and time. Also note, the Holy Spirit came prior to baptism confirming baptism does not save, but is an outward sign of the beginning of a new life.

How available are you to the Holy Spirit?
Do you understand why you find it hard to get alone to do Bible study? (The enemy, Satan doesn’t want you to.)
What do you need to change in your life to be available to Jesus Christ?

(Acts 11:19-30)
Peter Criticized
The well-meaning church criticized Peter for what he had done for the Gentiles, but Peter said who am I to go against the Lord (Acts 11:16-17).  Then there was no further objections.

Antioch was the capitol of Syria.  It was a city of sin.  It was corrupt with pagan influences and desperately needed the cleansing power of Jesus.

There are 4 events in the early history of this important church at Antioch:
1.      They told the Greeks (Gentiles) about Jesus
2.     Barnabas and Saul taught great numbers of people.
3.     Disciples were called Christian for the first time.
4.     Prophets came to Antioch and prophesied

The Lord’s hand was on them because a great number of people turned to the Lord (Acts 11:21).  The news reached Jerusalem and the church sent Barnabas who had the biggest heart in the church.  He believed in Saul and wasn’t afraid when others were.  We all need a Barnabas in our lives.  He wouldn’t care what background we came from or if we shown up on Sunday at church wearing holey jeans.   He wouldn’t look at the external, but the internal.  The name Barnabas means son of encouragement.   Do you have a Barnabas or are you a Barnabas?

Barnabas brought Saul to help teach in Antioch.  When they arrived in Antioch, there was evidence of God’s grace (Acts 11:23-24).  Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit and faith.  Great numbers of people were brought to the Lord.  More and More people were converted.

(Acts 12)
Peter Miraculous Escape
Herod began arresting some of the Christians intending on persecuting them.  He killed James and arrested Peter.  The church was earnestly praying for Peter.  While Peter was sleeping, his chains fell off and the gates where opened and Peter escaped.  Peter sleeping at such a time demonstrates the power of prayer, peace and trust in the Lord. 

Why are we so surprised when God answers our prayers?

Prayer is usually for petition, but it’s much more. 
When praying, you should include the A. C. T. S.
A – Adoration of God
C – Confession of sin
T – Thanksgiving
S – Supplification

Does it make a difference, if we pray?  The Scriptures say we should pray continually (1 Thess. 5:17) and to pray for your enemies. (Matt. 5:44)
How are you earnestly praying for your church?
Are you praying for other believers?

Prayer is a vehicle for God to change us.  When we get away in a quiet place to be with God in prayer, it changes our thought and desires.

There are great lessons in chapter 12:
1.   Prayer works – the church constantly prayed for Peter when he was in prison.  God sent his angels and miracles happened.  His chains fell off and he was freed.
2.   We need to remember this example and have faith that God will answer our prayers.
3.   God answers prayer.

1.   Because God shows no favoritism anyone who trusts in Jesus Christ is welcome into His church family.
2.   Encouraging believers to remain obedient to the Lord brings strength to the church.
3.   God acts with power to bring change through people’s prayers.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Acts 8-9

(Acts 8:1-8, John 4:6-42)
As Christians we can expect persecution.  The apostles and the early church were persecuted for their belief in Jesus. When the apostles were persecuted, it did not stop them.  Even good things happened.  This persecution united them more. (Acts 8:1) - They were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (Acts 8:4) - They preached the word wherever they went.  By being scattered they could now preach to more people.

When facing hard times do you talk about what God is teaching you?

Philip went to Samaria where the apostles had already proclaimed the Christ there.  When Philip performed miraculous signs, they listened.  Many people received Christ and were baptized.  Preaching the word to them was a new outlook for the Jewish Christians.  The Jews and Samaritans did not get along at all.  The Jews thought they were special, since they had the law and were God’s chosen people.  Samaritans were thought to be the lowest of people and were despised by the Jews.  They were probably the last people the apostles thought they would ever preach to.

The King of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites.  Over time the races were mixed.  Jerusalem Jews considered them to be unclean and not pure.  Many of them continued to worship their own gods as was their customs. 

Do you let your prejudices stand in your way of telling others about Jesus?

(Acts 8:9-40 Isaiah 53)
The apostles came face to face with the occult.  Simon was a sorcerer and had many followers.  He boasted that he was someone great.  When he heard Philip’s preaching of the good news and saw his great signs and miracles, Simon believed and was baptized.  To believe doesn’t always mean saving faith.  (Even Satan believes.)  When he saw Peter and John giving the people who believed the Holy Spirit, Simon offered them money and said “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit”.  Peter explained that he cannot buy this gift of God and he had no part in this ministry because your heart is not right before God.  Peter told him to repent of this wickedness and pray for forgiveness. (Acts 8:20-23)  Simon was amazed by the power of the Holy Spirit and not interested in salvation.

This shows that God knows your heart and you cannot deceive the Holy Spirit.  You cannot manipulate Him for your own purposes.

The Ethiopian
The Ethiopian didn’t understand the Isaiah passage.  He was dedicated to God, but didn’t know Jesus Christ.  God knew the Ethiopian’s heart and sent Philip to witness to him.  Philip did not question God, he just went.  God prepares the person and makes all the arrangements of time and place.  Philip was prepared.  A student of the scriptures and he knew Jesus Christ.  Philip explained Isaiah 53 to him.  This passage is talking about Jesus and how He was led to the cross as the sheep to slaughter.  Jesus didn’t try to talk His way out.  He was humiliated and deprived of justice and His life was taken.  God sends just the right person just when we need them as He did for the Ethiopian.

How much are you really seeking God?
How willing and available are you to go where He’s directing you?
How willing are you to cross over boundaries like life style, race, etc.?
Are you willing and ready or intimated to share the gospel?

(Acts 9:1-19a; 22:1-16; 26:9-19)
Saul’s Conversion
Saul was a highly religious and educated man.  He was the leading persecutor of Christians.  He believed he was working for God.  Saul was threatening the disciples and persecuting them and their followers.  One day on the road to Damascus a bright brilliant light from heaven slashed all around him and he fell to the ground blinded.  He heard a voice (Jesus) saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  He told him to go to Damascus and then he would be told what to do.  For 3 days he was blind. 

Who are you persecuting?

Then a disciple named Ananias was told by the Lord to go and minister to Saul.  Ananias was afraid and didn’t want to go for he had heard of Saul’s reputation for persecuting Christians, but  Ananias obeyed God and went to Damascus.  He placed his hands on Saul and immediately Saul could see again.  Saul believed and was baptized.  God turned his mission of hate to a mission of heaven.

Saul then preached in Damascus.  Then he went to Jerusalem and to all Judea to the Gentiles, preaching that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.  He never lost sight of the glory of God throughout his life.  He endured many types of persecution, but continued to do God’s will.

We must follow God’s will and obey whatever He asked, even if we are afraid.  What is Ananias had said “No”?  What a privilege he had to lead Saul to Christ.  God used Saul to evangelize to most of the unknown world.  He wrote much of the New Testament. 

1.      Hard times can prepare and position us to share in truth about God with others.
2.     A heart that truly seeks God will find Him.
3.     No heart is too hard for Jesus Christ to change.

Who do you identify with?
            Philip – trusting, going without question and doing what God says
            Ethiopian – seeking God, but clueless
            Ananias – feeling overwhelmed of what God is asking you to do
            Saul – showing a hard heart
Do you have a Saul in your life?  Are you willing to pray for them? 
God wants all of us to be ready, willing and available to help someone else to have life in a new direction.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Acts 3-7

(Acts 3-4)
In Acts 3 Peter heals the crippled beggar.  There are physical healings that point to Christ’s spiritual healing of a person.  (1) Rom. 10:17 – Faith come from hearing the word.  Peter healed the crippled man in the name of Jesus. (2) Eph. 2:1 – The man was helpless to change himself.  Without Christ, God calls us all “dead in trespasses and sins”.  (3) Eph. 2:8 - by grace you are saved.  God healed the man through His grace. (4) John 10:10b – “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”.

The beggar jumped up and walked and shouted with joy praising God and telling everyone what God had done.  The name of Jesus is powerful!  Acts 3:15 – He is the author of life.  Acts 3:16 – His name heals.  Acts 4:12 – Salvation is found in no other name and no other name is given to men to be saved.  Acts 4:30 – miraculous signs and wonders are performed through His name. 

As people heard the man telling his story, a crowd quickly assembled.  Peter took advantage of the moment to share the gospel with the crowd.  Many repented and believers grew to about 5,000. 

The church is under attack today as was the first church.  Peter and John were arrested by the Sanhedrin, because they were teaching and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.  The rulers saw their courage and that they were just ordinary men – uneducated, but knew the scriptures.  The rulers knew the apostles had been with Jesus and they saw the proof of the man who was healed.  There was nothing they could do since the apostles had done nothing against the law.  So they ordered them to stop teaching the people and warned them to not speak in Jesus’ name.  Peter and John said, “For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)  God allowed this opposition in order to unite the apostles and deepen their roots in Christ.

The apostles returned to their own people.  They prayed to God who has all power and authority over all (Acts 4:24), prayed using the promises and prophecies of Scripture (Ps. 2) as a basis for prayer in the will of God (Acts 4:25-28, and asked for more boldness to witness and more power to help others (Acts 4:29-30).  God answered by power (Acts 4:31) with an outward sign of an earthquake.

(Acts 5)
It’s not uncommon for some to look holy for personal gain.  Ananias and Sapphira certainly wanted to look holy.  They were hypocrites.  They lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3).  They lied not to men, but to God (Acts 5:4).  They paid the price with their death.  Their greed was based on pride and selfishness.  Death is the consequence of sin.  This shows me that the Holy Spirit knows all and we cannot hide anything from God.  Also it teaches God does not tolerate sin.  When we as Christians act this way, it costs someone their salvation.  It can turn them away from Christ - not toward Him.  The apostles continued performing miraculous sings and wonders and continued adding believers.

(Acts 6)
As a church grows there is always some kind of strife.  It happened in the first church and it happens today.  The church and the apostles were threatened and distracted from their God-given call.  There was complaining of some of the widows being overlooked in daily food distribution.  God wanted the apostles to spread the word of God and saturate themselves in prayer and ministry of the word and not let social pressures of the time divert their attention.  The whole church met together and they appointed 7 men (first elders of the church) to be responsible for such matters.  They were to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.  1 Tim. 3 tells many more characteristics deacons and elders should have like being trustworthy, men of respect, self-controlled, able to teach, etc. 

God set His seal of authority on their choices.  Stephen was one who was chosen.  He was as powerful as the apostles by doing great wonders and miraculous signs (Acts 6:8).  Opposition arose and he was arrested.

(Acts 7)
Stephen spoke to the Sanhedrin reminding them of their history from Abraham to Moses. He reminded them of their continued rejection and their resistance to the Holy Spirit.  He accused them of the murder of Jesus.  They were furious, but Stephen was calm.  As Stephen was stoned to death, he saw the glory of God in heaven and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  He asked God to not hold this sin against them.

1.      Courage comes to a believer through Bible based prayer and confidence in God’s sovereignty
2.     Obedience to God by faith demonstrates trust in His purposes and power.
3.    Turning to Jesus brings strength and perspective to face all life’s circumstances.

What effect does opposition to Christian activity and life in the Spirit have on you?
Are you a Christian, but living otherwise?
Do you pray for your pastor and church leaders?
What truths are refusing to receive that God has shown you?
Where do you need to stand up for Jesus?
Do you tell others about Jesus? When witnessing you don’t need to be defensive, just tell your story.