What is it?

Looking through my journals and email, I found out that I was wishing for a lot of good things to happen. I claimed to be “hoping,” but I did not/could not be confident the desired outcome would happen. That is not what hope is about. Hope is more than wishing. [Want to know more? Click here.]

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Follow Spirit's Leading: Acts 8:26

There’s a couple of applications I got from studying this verse and its context. The verse says, “But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, ‘Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza (this is a deserted road)’”
I usually ask the question, “What does this verse/passage indicate I should do in my world?” We have to be careful to not take the (true) stories of the Bible’s history books, but sometimes there’s an example to follow. In this case this story is another example of the Holy Spirit directing Philip to further ministry. Philip was probably content, even excited, to be part of the Christian experience and explosion in Samaria. Things were happening there. It was an exciting place to be and there were lots of people becoming Christ-followers. Who wouldn’t want to be in on that excitement and celebration!
However, Philip was still open to the Spirit’s leading. And the Spirit (called in this passage “the angel of the Lord”) told Philip to leave the party, leave the ministry in Samaria to someone else, and go somewhere else. That somewhere else probably didn’t make a lot of sense to Philip. The Spirit told Philip to go to a deserted road where there were few, if any, people hanging around. But Philip did what he was led/told to do.
The application for me is three-fold. First, am I listening for the Spirit of the Lord? Sometimes when I’m reading the Word of God I will be pricked to do something. It’s not often but I think it probably happens more than I think and I’m just not listening. I need to pray before reading, during reading, and after reading for God’s guidance in my life.
Second, am I willing to do what the Holy Spirit tells me to do? Philip left immediately for the Gaza road. I need to be as obedient as that . . . taking action immediately. I’m not talking about leaving to go on a mission around the world (or even across the state). I’m talking about doing the things God has told us to do in His Word. I can’t just read about proper thinking and meditating (Philippians 4:8 – whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good repute, excellence . . . let your mind dwell on these things), I have to train myself to turn my thoughts to those kinds of things instead of all the negative thoughts I, naturally in my sinful nature, tend to think about. There are many other things that are clearly the will of God as explained in Scripture that I need to be doing something about.
Third, am I willing to do what the Holy Spirit tells me to do even if it doesn’t seem to make sense to me? Philip was told to go to a deserted road. Presumably there would be no people there and Philip would be all alone. What I need to remember is that God has a purpose for us doing, thinking, going to the things and places He directs us. When Philip got to the desert road, there was a God-fearing man from Ethiopia who needed to hear the whole truth about Jesus. God may be sending us out to reach one person or a multitude. Our job is to take the next step in obeying Him, be all-in, and wait expectantly for God’s purpose to show up.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Acts 8:13-24: God Judges Sincerity

It’s not my place to judge the sincerity of another’s confession of faith. I can ask God for discernment so I know how to share with someone who may be seeking God, but it’s not my job to “make” them believe.
We have an example of this in Acts 8 when Luke records a situation involving a magician named Simon who was astonishing the people of Samaria with his tricks. He saw Philip preaching and many of the Samaritans were believing in Philip’s message about the Christ. Then Simon saw the apostles arriving from Jerusalem and laying hands on the new believers and the new believers received the gift of the Spirit. Simon wanted the power to do that, too and thought he could buy it from Peter and John. Scripture says in verse 13, “And even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip . . .” So it appears to us that Simon was a believer.
However, later we find out that Simon is still thinking in terms of money. Verses 18 - 19 says, “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’” Again it’s not clear as to Simon’s motives or to what extent Simon believed. That belief was to be determined by the Holy Spirit (through the apostles) and not by Philip. Philip’s job was to preach the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.
Fortunately, there is one that is not fooled and can determine who are true believers and have received salvation. 2 Timothy 2:19 tells us, “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His . . .’” That’s a relief to me. I don’t have to worry about whether or not someone truly believes. I can focus, as Philip did, on the preaching of God’s Word, especially the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit knows who is sincere and who is not.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Message Wherever I Go

Persecution. Scattering. That’s what has now happened to the disciples in Jerusalem. Many theologians believe that the Hellenistic Jews were the ones being persecuted in Jerusalem, being imprisoned and beaten (and in some cases put to death as Stephen was). So they scattered to other parts of the region to avoid the persecution. Some may have been returning home since they were visiting Jerusalem for the feasts and just hadn’t left yet because they heard and believed the message of Christ.
Acts 8:4 says, “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” The next few verses give an account of one such person, Philip. “And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them.” [Acts 8:5] They were forced out of Jerusalem but didn’t go quietly. They were preaching the word. Wherever they went, they were preaching the word. Philip went to Samaria (not necessarily his home) and preached Christ to them. Philip probably could relate to the Samaritans since both the Hellenistic Jews (especially those who believed in Christ) and the Samaritans were outsiders to the Jewish elite of Jerusalem. Also, the Samaritans had had experience with the Christ as Jesus also had witnessed there.
So Philip went to the Samaritans (half Jewish and half other). They were still considered Jewish, but were called half-breeds. They didn’t like the Jews of Jerusalem and the Jews of Jerusalem didn’t like them. That was also true of Philip and the others who had been scattered. So Philip built upon their commonalities and preached Christ. He also performed “signs” (miracles) among the Samaritans and the Samaritans could see the similarities between the message Philip was preaching and what they had witnessed Jesus doing.
That is all very interesting and challenges me to find common ground with those I desire to share Christ with. However, that’s not what struck me the most about this passage. I was convicted of my lack of sharing the gospel wherever I go. Now I’m not being persecuted or forced to go to another city, state, or country, but the example is still the same for me: preach Christ wherever I go. I can do that if I’m open to the Holy Spirit’s leading and take advantage of the opportunities the Holy Spirit supplies.
One such opportunity is present as I write this blog. I don’t know who I’m writing to or who reads it every week, but I should be making it clear that Christ’s salvation is available to everyone. All it takes is belief in Him and confessing Him as Lord. What benefit does doing that have? What I notice most on a day-to-day basis is the possibility for peace or serenity in my life. Not everything goes the way I want it to, but I have peace knowing that there’s a God who is all powerful who has provided a very positive end result . . . new life in Christ and eternity with Him in a world where there is no pain or suffering.
So today, I proclaim that to you. I’m also going to pray that I become more conscious of the opportunities the Holy Spirit provides for me to preach the word wherever I go.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Stoning

As I continued reading in Acts 7:54 – Acts 8:3, the description of violence captivated my imagination. I tried to place myself within hearing distance of what was going on before the Sanhedrin. Stephen had just made a great speech highlighting the history of Israel and their continual disobedience to the laws of God. He highlighted that the Sanhedrin was doing the very same things as their “fathers” (the founders and leaders of Israel) had done. They were persecuting God’s prophets, those who were exclaiming Jesus as Messiah. They were refusing to believe and were putting those who believed in prison or were, even worse, persecuting them to the point of death.
The crowd’s response? “. . . they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him . . . they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears, and they rushed upon him with one impulse. And when they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him and the witnesses laid aside their robes . . . they went on stoning         Stephen . . .” [Acts 7:54 – 58] Violence! Blood! Gore! And people stood around watching and cheering. There were “witnesses” whose presence was an attempt to legitimize the proceedings. No one stood up and tried to protect Stephen. No one stood up for the truth. They just aggressively attacked Stephen or passively witnessed what was going on.
This scene, as I imagined it in my head, convicted me. There are people who are preaching God’s Word and are standing up for Him, who are getting persecuted for it. And I passively watch as it happens. I read the article on my computer or view the story on the news. And, in passing, I might say a prayer silently in my head. But, I’m not really standing up for them. I’m not collecting money for them. I’m not actively doing anything. Now, I realize that I can’t physically support every cause for Christ. I don’t have the finances, the health, the influence to affect much at all. But, I am convicted about not speaking out for Christ in my realm of influence.
Just something to think about and maybe I will take action next time the opportunity appears. In the meantime, know that I’m a Christ-follower and a Bible-believer. I stand up to proclaim the saving good news of Christ to any who will hear.