Posts referencing the book of Acts

You May Already Be Qualified

June 10, 2013

Hypocrisy is a charged often leveled against Christians. “How can you say you believe ‘x’ and still do ‘y’?”, the unbeliever asks. While the merits of this claim probably deserve an entire devotional on their own, the implication is that these hypocrites are unqualified - unqualified to be taken seriously, unqualified to speak the truth of the Bible, even unqualified to be a child of God. If someone hears this charge, particularly the latter one, with enough repetition, they may actually start to believe it. What exactly qualifies someone to become a Christian, or to at least claim that they are?

Believe it or not, the list of qualifications is quite short.

1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 3:1-3 (ESV)

30Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Acts 16:30-31 (ESV)

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ - that’s it!

This is the culmination of a long process. God created man (Genesis 1:27) in a perfect state, but man chose to sin (Genesis 3:1-7). There were stiff consequences for that sin (Genesis 3:16-19), but in the serpent’s curse, God alluded to His plan (Genesis 3:15). Throughout the Old Testament, many prophecies were made concerning the Messiah, both literal (Isaiah 9:1-7, Isaiah 53) and figurative (Leviticus 4). Jesus came, born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18), and lived a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15) while ministering on earth. He was crucified (Matthew 27:22-26), but resurrected from the grave (Matthew 28:1-7) and ascended to heaven to be with His Father (Acts 1:6-11) until He returns to call His own home (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

Throughout the Bible, there are many, many examples of those who would likely be called hypocrites today. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife - twice! - (Genesis 12:11-20, Genesis 20:1-18) and is still the father of the nation of Israel. Jacob stole his brother’s blessing (Genesis 27:5-35), but was still the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. David committed adultery (2 Samuel 11:2-5) and murder (2 Samuel 11:14-24), yet God used Bathsheba to give him Solomon, his successor as king. Paul persecuted and killed Christ’s followers (Acts 8:1-9:2), yet he was used to write nearly half of the New Testament.

Were these people hypocrites? Some may say “yes.” The thing is, while salvation is an instant change in state, learning to live in a way that pleases Christ takes a lifetime. As we work to allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives, and deepen our relationship with Him, we can see significant growth. Habits can be changed, thought patterns can be transformed, and we can experience peace and joy that are not possible in our own strength. We will get better, but we will never be perfect.

This is also a great example of God’s redemption. The more cynical person would look at the people above and think “If these are the founders of this religion, I want nothing to do with it!” When you look at each life, though, you see God working to bring about a changed heart, which results in a transformed life. These people weren’t used by God to do those sinful things; those people were used by God to do amazing things for Him in spite of those sinful things!

(A note on leaders - Paul sets out qualifications for deacons and pastors in two different places (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-13). James echoes this along with a warning.

1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways.

James 3:1-2a (ESV)

These guidelines are good for all, but the church should hold their leaders to these standards as a condition of continued leadership. The Bible contains several examples of God removing people from leadership when they turned from Him.)

How, then, do we get qualified? That’s just it - God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. If you have accepted Christ, you are qualified! Don’t let your failures get you down; rather, use them as reminders of how much you (and we all) need Jesus. If you haven’t accepted Christ, the good news is that you’re only missing one qualification. There is no credit check, and no test for which you have to study. God is waiting with open arms to welcome you into His family! All you have to do is ask; God’s Simple Plan of Salvation can show you how.

How to Recognize the Source of Healing

September 1, 2010

This week brings us to Acts 3:16.

16By faith in His name, His name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. So the faith that comes through Him has given him this perfect health in front of all of you.

Acts 3:16 (HCSB)

This is Peter speaking to people who had assembled after he and John had healed a lame man (Acts 3:1-16). This type of healing, along with many other things described in the book of Acts, can be a bit contentious among Christians. Is God still in the healing business? Does He still use people like Peter and John to speak His healing? And what role do doctors play in healing - if I took a pill and got better, it must have been the doctor, right? The short answers to these questions are yes, no, and no. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at some miraculous healings at other places in the Bible.

In 1 Kings 17:8-24, we read about Elijah and the widow of Zerephath. This is during the time when Elijah had declared to Ahab and Jezebel (through direction from the Lord, of course) that it would not rain until he said it would. There was a famine, and Elijah was hungry. When he arrived at the widow’s house, she was about to make the last of her food; once she and her son ate it, they would be completely out with no prospect of any more. Elijah asked her to make him some food first, and she did; from that point on, her flour and oil never ran out for the duration of the famine. However, the widow’s son became sick and died. Elijah prayed over him, that the Lord would raise him.

22So the Lord listened to Elijah’s voice, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.

1 Kings 17:22 (HCSB)

Elijah was succeeded by Elisha, and Elisha had some pretty radical healing experiences himself. In 2 Kings 4:8-17, he passed through a town called Shunem, and when he did, a woman prepared food for him every time he came by, and even set up a room in her house for him to stay. When questioned about why, she said that she recognized him as a man of God. Elisha asked what she would like in return for her hospitality, and she said she didn’t need anything. When he pressed her, though, she said that she had always wanted a son, but had been unable to conceive. Elisha told her “At this time next year you will have a son in your arms.” (v. 16) She was incredulous, but a year later, she had a son.

Fast forward a few years (2 Kings 4:18-37), and the boy is growing. Suddenly, one day he complains of severe head pain, and quickly dies in her lap. She immediately calls for donkeys to travel to see Elisha. Elisha tries to send an assistant to hold his staff over the boy’s head to bring him back to life, but the mother is insistent that Elisha come himself. Once they arrive at her house, the assistant goes in as Elisha directed, but nothing happened. What Elisha does next I’m pretty sure isn’t in any medical textbooks, but it worked!

32When Elisha got to the house, he discovered the boy lying dead on his bed. 33So he went in, closed the door behind the two of them, and prayed to the Lord. 34Then he went up and lay on the boy: he put mouth to mouth, eye to eye, hand to hand. While he bent down over him, the boy’s flesh became warm. 35Elisha got up, went into the house, and paced back and forth. Then he went up and bent down over him again. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.

2 Kings 4:32-35 (HCSB)

(While these examples are of times that God chose to heal, He does not always make that choice. Both the Old and New Testaments have plenty of times where people died, and were not raised back to life; and, even these people did eventually die “for good.” Don’t at all think that because someone prays, even someone who is “right with God” or “spiritual” or a “great prayer warrior,” that God is bound to heal. He alone knows the plans He has for each of us. The remainder of this will focus on times when God does heal, but I wanted to address this before we continue.)

Returning to my questions from the beginning… Is God still in the healing business? The answer to that is an emphatic yes! One of the names of God in the Bible is Jehovah-Rophe, meaning “The Lord Who Heals.” This was used in Exodus 15:22-26, where God provided purification for the undrinkable water at Marah so His people could drink. In Luke 5:30-31, Jesus even used the picture of a physician when explaining why He spent so much time with sinners rather than with those who already practiced religion; if He can fix our sin, can’t He also fix our health? Also, over this past year, I have known people who have defeated cancer and overcome a drowning. God is definitely still in the healing business.

Does God still use people, like Peter and John, to walk up to someone and heal them just by speaking? This is where some of the contention comes in. I’m not interested in a deep theological debate, but I will say that I have not see this in my lifetime. While God could still use men (or women) in this way, He has generally used different techniques for different times. In our day and time, could you imagine the international storm that would be created by someone who did this? It is highly unlikely that this attention would point people towards God, which is the goal of everything God does. Besides, I don’t think He needs to, which brings me to the next question.

Don’t doctors heal more people than God these days? No. God has revealed medicine and the human body to physicians; He has granted drug makers the knowledge that they have, and the doctors the knowledge as to when their application is appropriate. He created the earth and everything on the earth; even if a drug is synthesized, it’s synthesized using material He created. This reminds me of a joke that I heard a while back - a group of scientists gets together and decides that they’re now smarter than God. So, one of them goes up to God and says, “You know, with human cloning and all the things we can create, we don’t really need You anymore.” God replies, “Then why don’t we have a man-making contest - and let’s do it old-school, like I did with Adam.” “No problem,” says the scientist, and he bends down and picks up a handful of dirt. “No, no, no,” said God, “get your own dirt!”

So, then, we see that all healing does come from God, whether He chooses to make cancer disappear, or whether He uses ibuprofen and a physical therapist, or whether He uses a replacement limb. Recognizing Him as the source for all healing, not just the miracles, enables us to more greatly see His hand at work in our lives, and in the lives of those around us.

How to Right What's Wrong

August 25, 2010

Today we hit a Scripture so tough, it took me two years to write about it. It’s Romans 3:16 - see if this isn’t the most uplifting verse you’ve heard all week…

16ruin and wretchedness are in their paths,

Romans 3:16 (HCSB)

We’ll definitely need some more context - let’s look beginning with verse 10, going through verse 20.

10as it is written:

There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, together they have become useless; there is no one who does good, there is not even one. 13Their throat is an open grave; they deceive with their tongues. Vipers’ venom is under their lips. 14Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. 15Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16ruin and wretchedness are in their paths, 17and the path of peace they have not known. 18There is no fear of God before their eyes.

19Now we know that whatever the law says speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment. 20For no flesh will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

Romans 3:10-20 (HCSB)

The block quote in the passage above is a compilation of verses from the Old Testament. I won’t paste all of them here, but these can be found in Psalm 5:9, Psalm 10:7, Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 36:1, Psalm 53:1-3, Psalm 140:3, Ecclesiastes 7:20, and Isaiah 59:7-8. In each of these passages, what immediately follows these descriptions is a call is for God to judge the people who are displaying these tendencies, and deliver His people from them. The passage in Isaiah is no different; the prophet writes how the Lord is going to judge those who have wronged Him and His people. Here’s how he described the coming judgment…

15Truth is missing,
and whoever turns from evil is plundered.
The Lord saw that there was no justice,
and He was offended.

16He saw that there was no man -
He was amazed that there was no one interceding;
so His own arm brought salvation,
and His own righteousness supported Him.

17He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on His head;
He put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and He wrapped Himself in zeal as in a cloak.

18Thus He will repay according to their deeds:
fury to His enemies,
retribution to His foes,
and He will repay the coastlands.

19They will fear the name of the Lord in the west,
and His glory in the east;
for He will come like a rushing stream
driven by the wind of the Lord.

Isaiah 59:15-19 (HCSB)

That’s quite a picture! The “rushing stream driven by the wind” is a powerful image. We’ve seen images of floods on TV - it’s amazing how just a little bit of water can completely overpower anything in its path. This is a strong force, but it is not indiscriminate, like a normal flood; the Lord is repaying people according to their deeds. At this point, we may be thinking “Boy, I’m glad I’m not one of those people who has wronged Him or His people!” But, are we really innocent? Let’s take a look further in Romans 3…

23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 3:23 (HCSB)

I once had a pastor who said that in this verse, “all” is from the Greek, meaning “all.” There is little ambiguity about whether you and I are part of the “all” that Paul is talking about - every one of us has sinned against God, and deserve any punishment we receive from Him.

So, we’ve wronged God, and God demands justice. How are we going to make this right? (Notice above in Isaiah 59:16, “His own arm brought salvation…”) Let’s see what Paul says.

21But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed - attested by the Law and the Prophets 22- that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. 23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:21-26 (HCSB)

The word “propitiation” is an interesting word. When I started reading versions other than the King James Version, I thought for sure that “propitiation” was one of those words that wouldn’t make it. However, the more modern translation versions NASB, ESV, NKJV, and HCSB all have this word in this verse! The NIV translates it “sacrifice of atonement,” and that’s a good way to put it. The dictionary defines propitiation as making something favorably inclined or appeasing it. God presented Jesus as a way to appease His demand for justice! Since Jesus appeases this demand, all we have to do is believe in Him and accept Him (v. 26 “He would… declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus”). Not only does he declare us righteous, God will “pass over the sins previously committed.” (v. 25)

This is really good news. I imagine your experience on this earth is much like mine in this regard - I simply cannot always do what I know I’m supposed to do. I get angry. I say mean things. I let resentment build in my heart. If it were up to me to apologize for my sins and try to do better, I would be toast. But, look at what Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross can do for us! If we accept Him, God counts us righteous and doesn’t demand any further payment for our sin! (We may still have to deal with consequences here on earth - God forgives our sin; He never promised to save us from our bad decisions.)

Notice the end of verse 22 - “to all who believe, since there is no distinction.” There’s that “all” again, and yes, it’s still talking about you and me. This free gift, this payment for sin, is available to all people without distinction. Any race, any gender, any age, any marital status, any intelligence level, any financial status… well, you get the idea. Most importantly, it is available for you! If you are reading this, Jesus knew about you when He died on the cross; He paid for your sin with His life. All you have to do is accept that gift - as Paul and Silas told a jailer in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” If you would like more information on how to accept this gift, you can look at God’s Simple Plan of Salvation, which details more about this; also, feel free to contact me using the “Contact” link found at the top of the page.

How to Have Power

August 6, 2008

This week, let’s look at Ephesians 3:16 (through verse 19).

16[I pray] that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. [I pray that] you, being rooted and firmly established in love, 18may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and width, height and depth, 19and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:16-19 (HCSB)

God is omnipotent. If you’ve grown up in church, you’ve probably heard that so much that its meaning is often taken for granted - it’s just one of those three “omni” words you had to learn in Sunday School (the others being omnipresent and omniscient, for those who didn’t grow up going to Sunday School). God has all power, and He has promised to give it to us!

Before Jesus went back to heaven, He promised that He would send the Holy Spirit to help us do the things He wanted us to do.

8"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Acts 1:8 (HCSB)

So, this means that we already have the power, right? One would think. Check out this video, though.

How often are we, in a spiritual sense, like those people? We’re “stuck on an escalator,” not realizing that we have the power to change the situation we’re in. How do we get out of that cycle? Paul tells us in the remainder of the passage above.

One of our pastor’s favorite things to say is that “victory is not you overcoming sin, it’s Christ overcoming you.” We don’t have to look within for this power - what God commands, God supplies! Look at the last part of verse 17 into verse 18; we should be “grounded in love.” What does that mean? There are a couple of ways to look at it. You could think of it the way a tree is grounded - its roots are in the ground, and it gains its nourishment from the ground. You could also thing of it the way an electrical circuit is grounded - a way for things the circuit can’t handle to be directed away from it, so they do not damage it. God’s perfect love can do both these things - it can be the source of our growth, and our protection.

But it’s not even limited to those two things. Paul prays that the Ephesian church will know the “breadth and width, height and depth” of God’s love. We know in our heads that each of these dimensions is infinite, but do we know it in our hearts? Do we really believe that God’s love and power are infinitely deep? Way back in 1917, Frederick M. Lehman penned the words to the hymn “The Love of God.” Here are verses one and three.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Frederick M. Lehman“The Love of God”

Finally, Paul says that they need to be “filled with all the fullness of God.” To be filled with God, we must empty ourselves of us. The more we cling to our plans, our desires, and the way we think things ought to be, the less room there is in us for God to reveal His plans, His desires, and the way He wants things to be. When we are willing to surrender ourselves to His leading, He can guide us.

If you still feel powerless, perhaps it is because you’re trying to do the wrong thing. As a teenager, I felt a call that my life should be given to full-time Christian service - becoming a pastor was the way I thought it was going to work out. However, I began working during high school, and to save money, I attended a community college once I graduated. I became distracted from my calling, and really struggled. I bounced from job to job, not really feeling contentment in anything. A few years later, I determined that I hadn’t been succeeding at much of anything, although the effort I was putting forth should have been bringing much more success. That’s when it occurred to me - maybe I wasn’t being successful because I wasn’t doing that at which God wanted me to succeed. I decided to go to a Christian university (Bob Jones University) and follow the call I had received, majoring in Youth Ministry.

The first day of classes, I met this really nice lady named Michelle, who became my wife at the end of that school year. Through talking to an Air Force Chaplain recruiter on campus, I decided to check out the Air Force, where I’ve had a successful 11-year-and-still-going career. I’m not a pastor, obviously, and I’m not even working with anything related to the ministry in the Air Force. However, I have used the training I received during that year of college; I’ve been able to study my Bible more effectively, I can put together a sermon or Sunday School lesson if needed, and I’m a Cub Scout leader. But, even if I hadn’t gotten anything else from that year at BJU, the family God has given me with Michelle is an overwhelming blessing.

The above is my testimony (the short version). By no means have I arrived - I still find myself struggling with things, and often I’ll ask myself “why are you struggling with this so much?” Sometimes, the answer is to not try so hard to do it myself, but let go of it and let God work it out. He’s much better at those things than we are!

My prayer for you this week is the same as Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church. I pray that we will live grounded in love, and that we will be able to shed our impotence in favor of God’s omnipotence, and allow His spirit to overwhelm us.

How to Live Up to God's Expectations

November 21, 2007

This week, we’ll take a look at Philippians 3:16.

16In any case, we should live up to whatever [truth] we have attained.

Philippians 3:16 (HCSB)

In this case, I believe that some context would help. Philippians 3:14 is a very popular verse, but let’s look at verses 12 through 16 to get the full picture.

12Not that I have already reached [the goal] or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. 15Therefore, all who are mature should think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this to you also. 16In any case, we should live up to whatever [truth] we have attained.

Philippians 3:12-16 (HCSB)

Paul was a traveling evangelist, and the last person to see Jesus face to face (Acts 9:1-7). If there was anyone on this earth who would have achieved “perfect Christian” status, it would have been Paul. But, here in verse 12, Paul tells the church that he is not a fully mature Christian - he still struggles to grow in Christ. In verses 13 and 14, he tells them that he doesn’t think that he’s arrived, but that he pushes on every day, reaching towards that goal.

In verse 15, Paul encourages the church to adopt his mindset. And, we should adopt it as well - none of us will ever know everything there is to know about the Christian life, and the blessings that God has in store for us. And, notice what Paul says will happen to us when we do this - if we “think differently about anything,” God will correct our errant thinking.

This brings us to verse 16. Whether we’re striving towards the goal, or we’re content to sit stagnant in our current level of knowledge and fellowship with God, we are responsible for living up to the knowledge we have. As the Spider-Man adage goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We have been given knowledge and power by the One Who has all the power and knowledge in the universe. We are definitely responsible for discharging this power and using this knowledge the way He wants us to.

When Jesus was on earth, He told a parable about a servant who had been given responsibility while a master was away, and what happens when that servant does not faithfully use what he has been given.

42The Lord said: "Who then is the faithful and sensible manager his master will put in charge of his household servants to give them their allotted food at the proper time? 43That slave whose master finds him working when he comes will be rewarded. 44I tell you the truth: he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female slaves, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47And that slave who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it will be severely beaten. 48But the one who did not know and did things deserving of blows will be beaten lightly. Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.

Luke 12:42-48 (HCSB)

Notice verses 47 and 48 - the one who knew what he was supposed to do and did not do it would be punished severely, while the one who didn’t know what he was supposed to do would be punished much more lightly. In the case of us knowing God’ Word, though, knowing that God expects us to study and learn the Bible means that we know our Master’s will.

So, then, our responsibility with regards to Philippians 3:12-16 is two-fold. First, we must strive to know God on a deeper, more intimate level, and the way to do that is by studying His Word. Second, we must live up to the knowledge that we do have. While ignorance of the law does not necessarily make one’s actions illegal, knowingly violating the law not only makes one’s actions illegal, but shows a lack of respect for laws and the ones who have made them. The same principle applies spiritually - knowingly disobeying God’s laws shows contempt for the One who has made them.

I pray that each of us will gain knowledge and understanding, and, having gained it, be able to live up to its expectations in our lives.