Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Acts 11- Christians

Take time to read Acts 11, it's a very short chapter.

In Acts 11 we learn a little about the church at Antioch.  The church at Antioch was the first place the disciples were first called Christians.  I want to look at three things that may explain why they were labeled Christians and how those three things can help us be labeled Christians as well.

The disciples at Antioch were called Christians because:

1) Christ was their commonality.
Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman world behind only Rome and Alexandria.  Antioch was a port city with people of many different races, cultures, languages and religious backgrounds.  Now picture a major city of this time.  Much like today I'm sure they had areas where a certain language group lived.  Areas where a certain culture lived.  You know, like our Little Italy's or Chinatowns today.

So, can you imagine the surprise of those in Antioch to see this melting pot of a church.  They struggled to figure out what defined this hodgepodge of a gathering so they called them Christians because Christ was their commonality.

2)They gave.
Just as the prophet Agabus predicted the Roman world had a severe famine.  In response to this famine the church at Antioch gave "each according to his ability to provide help for the brothers in Judea."  The people of Antioch were probably shocked to see such random generosity toward a place most of them had never been and toward people they had never met.  I imagine the people of Antioch trying to figure out what was in it for the church.

3) They were filled with the Holy Spirit.
When Barnabas came to visit the believers at Antioch he "saw evidence of the grace of God."  The "evidence of the grace of God" Luke writes about here is the Holy Spirit.  People can tell when you are full of the Holy Spirit because there is an amazing power associated with that.  The church at Antioch had "a great number of people" brought to the Lord.  Obviously, a lot of people believed because they were large enough to support the original church at Jerusalem.  So the Holy Spirit was doing work in those at Antioch.

The people of Antioch recognized the believers at Antioch as Christians or "Christ-ones".  Would your community recognize your church as being associated with Christ if the sign was taken off the door and the steeple was removed?  Do people notice anything different about you?  Do you associate with people so different from you that Christ is the only common denominator?  Do you give generously?  Are you filled with the Holy Spirit?

Live in such a way that people notice you as a Christian.  Let others see Jesus in you today.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving: Second Helpings

This is a repost from last year.  It is about Thanksgiving so I hope you enjoy.

Thanksgiving is next week.  I love Thanksgiving because it's the one time a year I see a lot of my family; plus the food is awesome.  I want to use this blog post to take a quick look at what Thanksgiving is to a Christian, and I'm not talking about the American tradition necessarily.

Psalm 100
"Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his,
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations."

This psalm is awesome!  It teaches us about thanksgiving and the phrase "Know that the Lord is God" is the lynchpin of the psalm.

Also, when Christians have Thanksgiving they remember the good God has done for them.  Remember the hymn "Count Your Many Blessings".  Do that.  List and see what God has done; "and it will surprise you what the Lord has done."

I have so many to list that this blog would get ridiculously long if I did, so I wont do it in a blog.  But if you are reading this you are most likely one of those blessings.

Finally, when a Christian celebrates Thanksgiving he/she should look at Deuteronomy chapter 16.  Here Moses writes down God's decrees for certain parties the Jews will have.  These parties sound lavish and awesome, but I don't want to overlook a key ingredient.

During these feast God says, "No man should appear before the Lord empty-handed: Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you."

This means we should present a gift to God at these celebrations.  So I challenge you to do this.  This can mean donating food to a food bank, giving more than your tithe in the offering, etc.  Do something to thank God for blessing you.

I personally packed a shoe-box for Operation Christmas Child.  This is a fun, easy, creative way to give your gift to God and give the gift of God to someone else.  You see Christian living is all about loving God and loving people.  I feel this tradition is an awesome tradition for a Christian Thanksgiving.

So count you many blessings, know the Lord is God and don't appear before the Lord empty-handed.  Love Jesus today.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Peace with God

I'm going to take a break from the book of Acts today and visit the next book of the Bible, Romans.  I'm looking at the awesome verses in Romans 5:1-11 and I'll primarily look at one piece of that in particular.

Romans 5:1 "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ..."

This amazing verse has more to it but it's so amazing that I can't write about the whole verse in one blog.  So what does this verse mean?  I'll be honest, I have read this verse incorrectly for years.

Justification brings us "peace with God", not the "peace of God".  Is there a difference?  Yes!

The peace of God is the peace that passes all understanding.  This is the supernatural peace that we can feel in the midst of the storm.  The peace that will make others wonder what's different in your life.  We are promised this kind of peace, but this is not what Paul writes about in Romans 5:1.

Peace with God is different.  Before we are justified we are at war with God.

Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Romans 5:10 "...when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son..."

Before God reconciled us we were His enemy.  When were were sinning we were working against God.

Romans 8:31 "...If God is for us, who can be against us?"

Well, if we are against God, what can we accomplish?  Nothing!  It is hopeless because He will beat us.

But here is the good news: He initiated the treaty with you and I.  He dictated the terms of peace and payed the price necessary for peace.  All we have to do is surrender to Him.  Christ died for us, so surrender to His terms of peace and be reconciled into peace with Him.

God's peace treaty goes beyond just peace.

Romans 5:1-2 "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God."

We get peace.  We also get access to God in the grace we now stand.  We also have the certainty of God's completed glory in His new heaven and new earth.  Now that is a one sided treaty!

So surrender to His terms of peace.  Remember that before reconciliation we were at war with God.  As Thanksgiving approaches be thankful that He gives us peace with Him today.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Acts 10- The Gospel is for All

Acts 10 tells the story of the conversion of a Roman man named Cornelius.  See, Cornelius was a Roman Centurion who didn't know the Lord but feared the Lord.  He had a vision of an angel telling him to send for Peter.  So Cornelius sent three men to get Peter.

While this is happening Peter got a vision of his own.  In his vision he saw all sorts of unclean animals and a voice told him to, "Get up Peter.  Kill and eat."  Peter refused to three times (I guess that's Peter's thing).  When Peter woke up the three men Cornelius sent there to get him arrived.  So Peter walked the 32 miles north to Cornelius' house.

Once at Cornelius' house Peter shared a simple version of the Gospel and many Gentiles believed and received the Holy Spirit.  After this Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?  They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have."  Then the new believers were baptized and Peter stayed a few more days with them.

The point of this story in Acts is that the Gospel is for all.  Peter and many of the early believers thought it was just for the Jews.  If fact Peter and John were surprised just a few chapters earlier that half-blood Jews (Samaritans) could receive the Holy Spirit.

Now most of the time when we read this story we think, "Silly Peter, why did you screw up again?  Of course the Gospel is for everyone."

Soon after thinking silly Peter we go and hoard the Gospel.  We refuse to tell so and so because they'll never listen.  Or I can't tell them they'll never listen, I'll just live my Gospel and if they believe then God can save them.

Well, silly Christians the Gospel is for all.  The Gospel is for all and it comes through the hearing of the Word.  The men and women at Cornelius' house believed by hearing Peter speak God's Word.  Folks, nothing has changed.  We must speak God's Word if we want the world around us to believe.

The Gospel is for all; it's that simple.  Who have you counted unworthy to hear the Gospel message?  Who have you passed by because there's no way they could be saved?  Or did you see that tattoo?  Did you know they spend most nights at the bar?  Did you know he's a Muslim?  The Gospel is for all.  If we believe that and we believe the urgency of the Gospel we will do something today.

The Gospel is for all.  Share it today.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Acts 9- Microwave and Crock Pot Change

Acts 9 is an incredibly familiar passage, but that being said read it before continuing.

Acts 9 is the unbelievable story of the conversion of Saul (later Paul).  Saul starts off the chapter "still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples," but by the end of the chapter Saul is friends with the disciples and is beginning his first missionary work by heading to Tarsus.

When many of us read about the conversion and amazing change of Saul (Paul) we think, "What is wrong with me? Why is it taking me so long to make a difference?"

When you read Acts 9 the sequence of events is boom, boom, boom fast; however, that is just the pace of Acts.  Let's look at Galatians to hear how Paul tells the same story of his conversion.  I'm writing from Galatians 1:13-18

"For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.  I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

Then after three years, I returned to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him for fifteen days."

So the sequence in Acts 9 happened over a 3 year fifteen day period.  Saul was not the Billy Graham of his time over night, God took time to prepare him.

So, what can we learn?  I believe this shows, as my pastor likes to say, that God changes us both like a microwave and a Crock Pot.

God changed Saul like a microwave.  He's on the road to Damascus to kill Christians and boom three days later he is a Christian.  Saul immediately began to share the good news with those around him.

God changed Saul like a Crock Pot.  He waited three years to even visit the disciples.  Saul spent time in the desert of Arabia and in Damascus being prepared for his role as the greatest missionary of all time.

When we begin to ask God, "Why are you taking so long to use me?  Didn't you call me to great things?"  When we ask this we should think of Saul.  Saul was faithful sharing the Gospel in the community around him before God expanded his mission field.  Therefore, if God is calling you to a big thing, be faithful in the smaller role He has given now.  Now is when God is preparing you to do a big thing.

God will change your heart immediately when you come to Him.  Yet, God will change your heart over time as well so that you can do amazing things for Him.  Be patient, but don't neglect to be faithful in the small things today.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Acts 8- The Unstoppable Force of the Gospel

Before you read this post take time to read Acts 8.

Acts 8 is amazing, but Acts 8 is most amazing because it follows Acts 7.  In Acts 7 we saw the murder of Stephen.  A murder like this could spell the end of a movement or at least a dip in a movement's momentum.  However, in Acts 8 we see the unstoppable force of the Gospel.  The Word spread like wildfire in the midst of persecution... take that Satan.

I want to take a look at three simple truths from this chapter.

1) Acts 8:1-8
Here we see that God used persecution to spread the Gospel.  The church at Jerusalem was comfortable staying in Jerusalem, but persecution drove them out.  Did God cause the persecution?  I don't know.  Did God use the persecution?  Heck yes.  I believe that God uses the hard times in our lives to do the same thing.

So, how is God trying to spread the Gospel through your trouble?

2) Acts 8:9-25
Pride is a dangerous sin, but it can be overcome.  In this story we see Simon the Sorcerer who was full of pride due to his position in the community.  Simon even desired status so much that he asked if he could pay the disciples to get the ability to give the Holy Spirit.  Now the disciples rebuked him and, as I read it, he was so humbled that he didn't even feel worthy to pray by himself for forgiveness.  I have a lot of pride in my life, thank God he can overcome my pride.  However, the removal of pride often comes from a harsh rebuke.

Are you able to take that kind of constructive criticism?

3) Acts 8:26-40
Sometimes God will ask us to leave a good situation to be in step with His plan.  Earlier in the chapter we saw Philip go from deacon to evangelist.  Philip got the opportunity to lead many people to Christ.  Then God told Philip to leave.  What must that have been like?  He must have wondered what God was thinking, but he went.  Because Philip left he was able to meet the Ethiopian Eunuch and lead him to Christ.  Did you know that the Ethiopian Church is one of the original Christian groups in the world?  If Philip wouldn't have left a good situation to stay in stride with God maybe the Gospel doesn't reach Ethiopia and millions die without having ever heard.

Is God calling you to leave a good situation to trust that He still has good in store for you?

Marvel at the unstoppable force of the Gospel and pray that you can be a part of God's work today.