The Whole World

“They listened to him until this word” Acts 22:22

After his arrest, Paul shared Christ with the mob that had tried to kill him. They listened intently to him because his message was fascinating and relevant. It seemed that they had a true interest and even an openness to the Gospel. But that all changed once Paul mentioned the Gentiles. That single word caused the hearers to close their ears, harden their hearts and reject the message of Christ.

Paul was not the only one to experience people coming close to responding to Christ only to hear something they did not like and to shut down. We read in John six that Jesus had developed a very large following until He spoke about His suffering and death. When they heard that, we are told they responded;

“This is a hard saying; who can understand it?”

To which John commented;

From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”

On another occasion a man approached Jesus with a question about how to receive eternal life. Jesus spoke with him about morality then told him to forsake his old life and come follow after Jesus. He seemed to enjoy a discussion about morality but when it came to transformed living we are told;

“But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

What about you? Is there anything that is keeping you from committing all to Christ. Perhaps the requirement of repentance or the need for total surrender? Maybe it is simpler than that, perhaps there is one area in your life that you have been unwilling to give to the Lord. That one area is keeping you from following wholly after Jesus. Sadly this crowd that was so close to responding to Jesus became harder and harder.

If there is an “until” in your life surrender now at the feet of Jesus and begin to experience the living water He promised would flow in the lives of those who followed Him.

Jim

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A Big Misunderstanding

Judges 11:30-31
“And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, ‘If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.’”

As commander of the armies of Israel, Jephthah is leading his soldiers into a heated battle against the people of Ammon. As the battle approaches, we find Jephthah crying out to God for assistance. It is a good thing to pray, but we find his prayer is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of God. Jephthah thinks he has to barter for the favor of God. “If You will help me I will give you…”

This is a very common misconception. Long before I knew Jesus, or had ever read a page of the Bible, there were times that I found myself praying. I never prayed out of gratitude for how wonderful my life was, but I did pray when I found myself in danger. My prayers would sound much like that of Jephthah. I asked God to get me out of the problem I got myself into, and I would promise to stop some behavior I inherently knew to be wrong. Later, when I heard of the grace of God in sending His Son, and the love of Christ in dying for me, I came to understand that I don’t need to barter with God.

Grace is unearned favor. By definition, it is not something we can earn, buy or trade up for. If you are facing a dilemma, don’t make a deal with God. Instead, cry out to the One who loves you and died for you. Often, God will use our difficulties to reveal behaviors that should not be in our lives. The proper response is to look to His grace, confess and repent.

Pastor Jim

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Jerusalem In An Uproar

Acts 21:31 “. . . all Jerusalem was in an uproar.”

The scene in Acts 21 might best be described as a riot. The people of the city had lost all sense of the Temple worship, and had become a violent mob determined to put Paul to death. Their rage escalated to the point that the Roman soldiers had to almost beat them back, in order to pull Paul out of their clutches. We read that when they reached the stairs (the way of escape) Paul could no longer walk on his own, but had to be carried by the soldiers. It seems that even after the arrival of the soldiers, the crowd was still taking shots at Paul.

We have all seen this kind of rage leading to riots. Some of us remember the Los Angeles riots of the 90′s, others back to the riots of the Civil Rights movement. People became enraged, violent and destructive. What was it that caused this intense, violent rage among the people of Jerusalem? What had Paul done that made them so angry? The fight started because someone falsely claimed Paul brought a Gentile into the Temple area. As things escalated, it became clear that their rage was really brought on by the fact that Paul was teaching things that were not culturally acceptable. It was his preaching of ideas, contrary to popular opinion, that made him an enemy of the people.

The Gospel always has that effect. The teachings of Jesus are not just contrary to popular opinion in Paul’s day, but in every day. The Gospel message is counter cultural in every age and to varying people group. No matter when or where we live, when we believe, follow and proclaim the teaching of Jesus, we will be going against the tide. The louder we speak, the more controversy will arise. This is due to the fact that Jesus came as king to set up a kingdom unlike any of the kingdoms of men. Remember Nebuchadnezzar’s dream? He saw an image that represented the kingdoms of men, then he saw a kingdom unlike all others. He saw the Kingdom of God.

The teachings of Jesus are revolutionary, not because He wants to create an army and battle men, but because He loves humanity, and wants to save them. When you feel like the odd man out because you do not buy into the world’s view on sex, sexuality, marriage, worship, God, religion, human dignity, the unborn or countless other positions, understand that you follow a different King, and are living for a different Kingdom.

Even in the midst of all this violence, Paul remained in love with the people of his world and desired for them to come to Christ. I pray we do not allow the opposition that we face as believers, to turn us against the unbelieving world, but instead, to give us the resolve of Paul to see them won to Christ.

Pastor Jim

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The Blame Game

Judges 10:14
“Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress.”

It is common for people to show no interest in God until calamities arises. As long as life is going their way, they are not concerned with God, but as soon as things get difficult, suddenly, they cry to God for help. Those who show no interest in the ways of God, suddenly blame God for the calamity they are facing, and cry out to Him to fix everything.

Many in Israel found themselves facing the threat of death. They had left the Word of God and were living life their own way. This “free living” led them once again into hardship, and they cried out to God for deliverance. Time and time again, they cried out for help, and God provided deliverance, but this time was different. This time God responded,

“Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress.”

If you are living life by your own standards, and ignoring the Word and ways of God, you cannot expect God to bail you out when things go wrong. He may respond by telling you to ask your own self-will, or the gods of possessions or pleasures for help. Fortunately, for Israel and for us, this is not the end of the story. We read,

Judges 10:15-16
“And the children of Israel said to the Lord, ‘We have sinned! Do to us whatever seems best to You; only deliver us this day, we pray.’ So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord. And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.”

Instead of treating God like their cosmic servant, they realized they had been living wrong. They took inventory of their lives, removed all the things that were forbidden by God, and made strides to get their lives to line up with His Word. We read, as God observed their repentance, He could no longer resist His own desire to come to their aid.

Today would be a good day to take inventory of your life. Are you living according to your own standards and asking God to bless your ways? Or have you surrendered to Him and His Word? Let’s put away anything that is foreign to Him, that we might experience the blessed life He promises to those who follow Him.

Pastor Jim

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He Fell Down

Acts 20:9 “And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead”

When reading the Bible, we should always look for application to our personal lives. Some texts, the truths to apply are very straight forward, others, are a little more difficult to find. This passage tells the story of a young man, Eutychus by name, who nods off during a Bible study and ends up dead. I think the passage is a warning of more than the need to stay awake at church. Eutychus’ fall is a perfect illustration of the way sin works.

Luke tells us the room they had gathered in was illuminated with many lamps. These lamps burned oil and gave off smoke and carbon monoxide. In this dimly lit room, filled with smoke, our young friend chose to situate himself on a window sill. To make matters worse, the room was located on the third level. Now it is not sin to be sleepy or to sit in a window sill, but his actions do illustrate the steps that lead to a persons fall. Facing a tempting situation, instead of being on guard, Eutychus put himself in a precarious place. Solomon wrote;

“Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared?” Proverbs 6:27

When we put ourselves in certain places, a fall is inevitable. Eutychus could have avoided all this pain by simply choosing a different seat.

Second, notice that he ignores the warning signs. We read that he was “Sinking into a deep sleep.” He did not go from bright-eyed to sound asleep in a moment of time. Instead, he slowly, gradually, yet continually, nodded off. After the first or second time his head dropped, or his body twitched awake, it would have been smart to find a new place to sit; perhaps to stand up for a while or take notes. After all, Paul the Apostles was teaching; it was probably a study worth staying awake for. Instead, he stayed in the sill until he was fast asleep and ended up dead. Sin is like that. It never overtakes us without warning. Before we ever fall, we have to ignore the nagging of the Spirit within us, the Word of God, and many times, the people who God sends into our lives in the midst of our struggle. How often, before you sin, has the door of escape become perfectly clear, yet we choose not to walk through it.

Finally, notice that this young man was failing to make significant spiritual investments. Sure he was at Bible study, but he was far from genuinely seeking the things of the Lord. To him a comfortable seat seemed more appealing than the Word of God. Showing up at church once a week is not enough to ensure spiritual growth. Personal investment in your walk with God is necessary. Those who find themselves growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus, overcoming personal sin, impacting others for the kingdom of God, are those who take time daily to invest in their relationship with Christ.

Thankfully, our story does not end with a dead young man. Instead, we read of the grace and power of God raising Eutychus back to life. Even when we fall, the grace of the Lord is enough to raise us up again. If you have failed, turn to Him right now.

Pastor Jim

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Fear Factor

Judges 7:3
“Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead. ’” And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained.”

God is selecting a team for a specific task. They will be led into hand-to-hand combat against a Midianite army too vast to number. As the people gather for the selection process, the first cut is made. Twenty-two thousand men are sent packing for one simple reason – fear! Gideon may have asked for a show of hands, or for those who were afraid to take a step backwards. Whatever the case, his army was immediately reduced by 70% and the reason for their departure was fear. They were afraid to be a part of the work of God.

After a second selection process, Gideon’s army was reduced again. Now there are only three hundred men left standing on the eve of battle. Here, just hours before they will step into the fight of their lives, something else very interesting transpires. After giving the battle plan to Gideon, God declares in Judges 7:10-11,

“But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outpost of the armed men who were in the camp.” Did you catch that? After sending ALL those who were afraid packing, God says “If you are afraid go and listen to the talk in the enemies camp.” If all those who were afraid went home, then we should read that Gideon and his servant had no fear, but as the story continues they, filled with fear, sneak into the enemies camp, as the Lord instructed.

I think this passage sheds light on the connection between fear and faith. I have often heard, fear and faith are mutually exclusive. A person cannot be afraid and exercise faith at the same time. I have not found that to be true. I have found, at the times I had to exercise the most faith, I have also been filled with great amounts of fear. Faith is trusting in the Lord, despite the fears which unsettle the soul. Those who allowed fear to win the battle, went home that day, never realizing the power of God. While those who put faith over fear, saw one of the greatest victories in all of Israel’s history.

Pastor Jim

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12 Men

Acts 19:7 “Now the men were about twelve in all.”

Ephesus was a very large city with a diverse population. It is estimated, at the time of Paul’s visit, there may have been in excess of 400,000 people living in the city. Ephesus was the largest city in Asia Minor, and one of the largest in the empire. Because of its location, on a trade route, the city was very wealthy; it had become an important center for commerce. Like any large wealthy city, Ephesus had its share of vice. One of the greatest was temple prostitution. Overlooking the city was the Temple to Diana; which was an awe-inspiring site. It drew pilgrims from all over the world to come and worship. The worship practice included sexual immorality.

It is in this city, we read, Paul met twelve struggling Christians. They believed in Christ, but due to lack of teaching, had a very limited understanding of Jesus and how to follow Him. The odds were so heavily stacked against these men, it seems impossible that they would be able to remain faithful to the Lord; much less have an impact upon Ephesus for the Kingdom of God. But as the story unfolds, we find this small group of struggling Christians becomes one of the most influential churches of all time. The church grew to change the face of Ephesus, to start other churches throughout Asia Minor, and to have an impact that lasted well over a century.

How is that possible? How do twelve struggling Christians impact a community? We read when Paul met them, he introduced them to the work of the Holy Spirit. He explained that in addition to the baptism with water, a person can be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Jesus explained that the result of receiving the Holy Spirit would be power to live for, and serve Christ. Immediately upon receiving the Holy Spirit, we read that these men received gifts from the Spirit that would strengthen, encourage and equip them for service.

After receiving the Spirit of God, the text explains that the believers gathered daily in the School of Tyrannus for instruction from the Word. For more than two years they met and were taught the Word of God by the Apostles. Equipped with the power of the Spirit and Word of God, these believers were ready to have a positive impact upon their world for Christ.

We often look at the world in which we live, and are filled with an ominous sense of inability. What kind of real lasting impact could I ever have against such darkness? Allow me to encourage you. Like these twelve men, when you are filled with the Spirit and equipped with the Word, the gates of Hell will not prevail.

Ask Jesus to baptize you today with the Holy Spirit then get plugged in, not occasionally, but consistently, in a good Bible teaching church. You will find that your life and influence is drastically changed for the better.

Pastor Jim

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