A Less Dramatic Story

Today’s Reading: Acts 9:32-43

PAUL THE PREACHER

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, EVEN THOUGH I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” – and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen. – 1 Timothy 1:12-17

Saul has a huge story to tell after his conversion. Saul, now known as Paul, describes himself as the worst sinner. His testimony is extreme and God used him in powerful ways EVEN THOUGH his past was full of regrets. But what about those of us who do not have a big story to share, whose transformation was still very real, yet less dramatic? This week we have looked at the stories of Stephen, Philip and Saul – all of whom had BIG transformation stories to tell. Now let’s listen to the story of Aeneas the Paralytic.

AENEAS THE PARALYTIC

Meanwhile, Peter traveled from place to place, and he came down to visit the believers in the town of Lydda. There he met a man named Aeneas, who had been paralyzed and bedridden for eight years. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you! Get up, roll up your sleeping mat!” And he was healed instantly. Then the whole population of Lydda and Sharon saw Aeneas walking around, and they turned to the Lord. – Acts 9:32-35

His story was not about what a wicked man he was, but about how he had suffered. The same God of mercy who forgave Paul and then used his story also had mercy on this unfortunate man and used his healing to turn two towns to the Lord.

TABITHA THE SEAMSTRESS

Consider Tabitha the Seamstress (also known as Dorcas). Tabitha was a good person. She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor. She made clothing for others and cared deeply for them. Her life was a stark contrast to Paul’s history of making life miserable for others. Two people with two very different backgrounds, both in need of the mercy of God and the salvation available through faith in Jesus Christ.

About this time she became ill and died. Her body was washed for burial and laid in an upstairs room. But the believers had heard that Peter was nearby at Lydda, so they sent two men to beg him, “Please come as soon as possible!”

So Peter returned with them; and as soon as he arrived, they took him to the upstairs room. The room was filled with widows who were weeping and showing him the coats and other clothes Dorcas had made for them. But Peter asked them all to leave the room; then he knelt and prayed. Turning to the body he said, “Get up, Tabitha.” And she opened her eyes! He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then he called in the widows and all the believers, and he presented her to them alive.

The news spread through the whole town, and many believed in the Lord. – Acts 9:37-42

5 people, 5 different stories – all used by God in the lives of other people:

– Stephen gave his life and the result was the scattering of the believers, which brought about the widespread of the gospel.

– Philip obeyed the Lord and the Ethiopian eunuch was saved, possibly changing the lives of many people as the eunuch returned to Ethiopia with an understanding of the gospel.

– Paul changed his ways and began one of the strongest evangelistic ministries in history.

– Aeneas simply allowed God to take his story of suffering and use it for His glory and the salvation of others.

– Tabitha’s reputation as a good and selfless person caused people to care enough about her death that her resurrection ended up changing their lives forever.

WHAT’S YOUR STORY?

Don’t let anyone tell you that your story isn’t powerful enough to make a difference in someone else’s life. Do not convince yourself that you don’t have a story or that God would never use you. In fact, He plans to use you today. Are you ready? Are you willing?

Saul the Villain

Today’s Reading: Acts 9:1-31

The first two verses of Acts 9 show us just how vile a man Saul was. We know Saul witnessed the death of Stephen, agreeing completely with the stoning. Now we see the level at which he is participating in the persecution of those who believe in Jesus.

BELIEVERS FEARED SAUL

Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them – both men and women – back to Jerusalem in chains. – Acts 9:1-2

This man was evil. His heart was full of hatred and an eagerness to protect Jewish law to the extent that he was willing to see the followers of Jesus die. He not only wanted it, he wanted to be the one to do it. Hopefully this paints a picture that explains just how much the believers in the early Church would have feared Saul. But God was not afraid of Saul. He loved him and had a plan for his life. Saul was in pursuit of the Christians but God was in pursuit of him!

GOD PURSUED SAUL

As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink. – Acts 9:3-9

ANANIAS WENT TO SAUL

Imagine Ananias’ fear when God spoke to him in a vision telling him to go and lay his hands on Saul. After hearing terrible things about this man and his plans, Ananias now was being commissioned by God to go to Saul, heal him, baptize him and help him receive the Spirit. Because he chose to obey God instead of reacting to his own emotions, Ananias played a key role in the conversion of Saul from a villain to an instrument to take God’s message to the Gentiles and to Kings, as well as to the people of Israel (Acts 9:15).

BARNABAS STOOD IN THE GAP FOR SAUL

Things were not automatically easy for Saul. The believers were still afraid of him, not trusting his motives or conversion. The Jews who had been delighted in Saul’s plan to persecute Christians were now angry with him and plotting to kill him. Like Ananias, another man stood in the gap for Saul. Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them of Saul’s conversion and the way in which he had been preaching boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus.

Ananias responded to God in obedience and God used him in the life of Saul. Barnabas stood beside this new believer, supporting the call he had received from God to preach the gospel. Because these two men were willing to be used by God and to mentor Saul in his first steps as a new Christian, the entire Church benefited and many more became believers.

The church had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers. – Acts 9:31

ARE WE GOING TO HIDE FROM OUR VILLAINS OR PURSUE THEM?

So what will God do with our obedience today? Who does God want us to come alongside and what will be the long-term results of our willingness to be used by God? Are we going to choose our ministry today or allow God to direct our paths? Are we going to hide from our villains or pursue them in love?

God, give us eyes to see those around us as YOU see them. Help us to see even the vilest offender as someone you love and whom you are pursuing for your purposes. Use us, Oh Lord!

Oh, perfect redemption, the purchase of blood / To every believer the promise of God / The vilest offender who truly believes / That moment from Jesus a pardon receives / Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear His voice! / Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the people rejoice! / Oh come to the Father, through Jesus the Son / And give Him the glory, great things He hath done. [To God Be the Glory, Frances J. Crosby, 1875]

Philip the Evangelist

Today’s Reading: Acts 8

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. HE went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison. – Acts 8:1b-3

GOD CAN DO SOMETHING WONDERFUL WITH OUR DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES.

When I stop and think of how difficult this time must have been for the believers, I find myself sympathetic. I have gone through some difficult times in my life but I have never had to flee for my life. I have had to move my family a great distance from the home and life we knew well, but never under negative circumstances.

There is a great lesson I can take from this passage: No matter how difficult a circumstance in my life may appear now, God can do something wonderful with it. The severe persecution the believers experienced led to the spread of the gospel – to a revival that went beyond Jerusalem and spread across the land, across nationalities, and across the world.

The believers did not just leave Jerusalem in fear, feeling sorry for themselves for the difficult time they were enduring. They left praising God in the midst of the storm and preaching the Good News about Jesus wherever they went (8:4). One of these believers was Philip.

Philip was uniquely equipped for this experience because he was a Jew who could speak Greek. This gave him the opportunity to reach more people. Also consider the fact that Philip went first to Samaria (8:5). The Jews did not like Samaritans and the Samaritans did not like Jews, yet this is where Philip began his ministry as an evangelist and this was the response.

Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city…the people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized. – Acts 8:6-8,12

A sorcerer named Simon was among those who accepted Philip’s message and was baptized. The problem was that Simon was so caught up in the miracles and the laying on of hands that his desire became selfish. He wanted this kind of ministry but for his glory and not for the purposes of God. The disciples pointed this out to him and Simon’s response was to repent of his selfish motives (8:14-24).

I think this is VERY similar to what many of us in the Church struggle with. We see how God is using someone else and we find ourselves jealous and wishing God would use us in the same way, but for the wrong reasons. It begins to affect our relationships and attitudes towards our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out… – Acts 8:26-27a

SOMETIMES GOD MOVES US OUT OF OUR COMFORT ZONE.

His new ministry in Samaria was going great, but Philip followed the Lord’s leading south and it changed lives. Philip listened and obeyed without hesitation.

An Ethiopian eunuch was the next person to benefit from Philip’s new role outside of Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit led Philip to walk alongside the eunuch’s carriage, overhear his struggle to understand the Scripture and offer his help. By coming alongside the eunuch and being willing to answer his questions, Philip had the opportunity to tell him the Good News about Jesus. The eunuch believed and was baptized (8:26-38).

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea. – Acts 8:39-40

Sometimes God shakes things up and moves us out of our comfort zone. We then have a choice – to feel sorry for ourselves or to let the Holy Spirit lead us into new situations and new relationships. It may be our presence in someone else’s life that God uses to bring them to a saving knowledge of Him. It may be our willingness to walk beside someone very different than ourselves that brings about new life.

I do not know if anyone else needed to hear this today but I know it is EXACTLY what I needed to hear. Lord, forgive me for my moments of jealousy and selfish ambition. Lord, forgive me for this cloud of self-pity I have comforted myself with all too often. Place me where YOU want me to be today. Give me new opportunities and new relationships for your purposes. Make me an evangelist like Philip, willing to go WHEREVER, WHENEVER and to WHOMEVER.

Stephen the Martyr

Today’s Reading: Acts 5:12 – 7:60

The apostles continued to perform miracles and preach the gospel. Out of jealousy, the high priest and his officials arrested them and put them in the public jail. An angel of the Lord opened the gates and brought them out telling them to go back to the Temple and give the people the message of life. Imagine the surprise of the high council the next day to find the jail empty and the apostles back in the Temple preaching.

The apostles were again arrested and questioned as to why they were doing exactly what the high priest had told them not to do. “We must obey God rather than human authority…” (Acts 5:29)

WORTHY TO SUFFER

They called in the apostles and had them flogged. Then they ordered them never again to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go. The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus. And every day, they continued to teach and preach this message: “Jesus is the Messiah.” – Acts 5:40-42

So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too. Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people… – Acts 6:7-8

A plot against Stephen formed and he was soon arrested and brought before the high council. When questioned, Stephen preached with boldness. He spoke of Abraham and Joseph, Moses and King David. He ended his sermon with a strong accusation against the Jewish leaders.

WILLING TO DIE

“You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One – the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”

The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of the young man named Saul.

As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” and with that he died. – Acts 7:51-60

PREPARED TO FORGIVE

The apostles were arrested and flogged and what did they do? They left rejoicing because they had the opportunity to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus. Stephen is arrested and falsely accused and what does he do? He uses his arrest as an opportunity to preach and expose sin. When drug out of the city and while being stoned, Stephen prays. While dying, Stephen forgives those who are killing him.

How will I react to situations in my life this week? Will I complain or rejoice? Will I defend myself or defend Christ? Will I forgive those who wrong me? Will I look for opportunities to glorify God?

Lord, I give you my week. See my heart. See how much work is left to be done in my attitudes and in my perspectives and change me. Lord, do a work in my heart so that my reaction to every situation this week brings glory to YOU. Lord I pray for protection for those who speak out boldly against the demands of this world and for those who are persecuted for their faith. May your message of grace spread and the number of believers increase. Amen.

Confessing or Conspiring?

Today’s Reading: Acts 4:32 – 5:11

All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. – Acts 4:32-35

Scripture is not telling us that we should sell everything we own and give it away. What this group of believers in the early Church did was respond to the Holy Spirit. They were overwhelmed by the moving of the Spirit to take such a grand and generous action. They responded in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit and the result was God’s blessings. It does not define the blessings as additional wealth, but we know that they were blessed and everyone’s needs were taken care of as a result. Their response came from the heart, not a legalistic action or desire for public acclaim.

For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles. – Acts 4:36-37

The apostles did not require Barnabas to be this generous, he simply gave from his heart in response to the Spirit. It does not say if this was the only field he owned, but the action was significant enough for the writer to mention before telling of a contrasting gift.

But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”

As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died… – Acts 5:1-5a

The same thing happened to his wife, Sapphira, when she came in the door and was questioned. Take note, this was not punishment doled out by man. The apostles did not sentence Ananias and Sapphira to death – God did. Lying to the Holy Spirit was that great of an offense. This couple went through the motions of giving a generous gift to the Church, but God judges the heart and knows the truth.

Please stick with me for a couple more minutes and consider this difficult question. In what ways do we lie to the Holy Spirit? If it is such a great offense, we need to consider if we have or if we ever offend God in this way. I am not a theologian nor do I have any kind of Biblical study degree but I do have a concern. More and more often I am seeing or hearing an attitude that I fear grieves the Holy Spirit.

I have had several conversations with believers in which they say they know what they are doing is wrong but they are going to do it anyhow with the intention of asking God for forgiveness later. They are relying on God’s grace to cleanse them from their sins. Now I strongly believe we serve a loving God and that it is by grace through faith that we are saved from our sins, but the attitude seems to be more of a manipulation of God than a true repentance. Remember, God cannot be mocked.

Don’t be misled – you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. – Galatians 6:7-9

Confessing our sins and asking God to forgive them is not a magic wand or secret spell we can use to get ourselves out of trouble. It is not a “get out of jail free” card. God sees the heart, just like he saw the heart of Ananias and Sapphira. I strongly believe that He knows when a person is simply speaking the confession of their sins and when there is true repentance and regret. Sinning with the intention of later confessing is quite possibly “conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord” (Acts 5:9).

Oh Jesus, forgive us for not taking your death on the cross seriously. Forgive us for the times in which we have knowingly sinned, choosing our own desires over yours. Lord, break us of our tendencies to put ourselves first. Fill us with your Spirit and open our hearts to the desire to be obedient to you in every moment. May we respond to each prompting of the Spirit in our hearts today and give you 100% of what you ask for, whatever that may be. May we be honest with ourselves and with you when we say we are giving you our all. Give us a greater understanding of what grieves you so that we may better serve you. Thank you for your incredible grace and for the many times you have given us another chance. You are a wonderful God and worthy of our praise! To YOU be the glory! We love you. Amen.

Praying for Great Boldness

Today’s Reading: Acts 3:12 – 4:31

Did life get interesting for Peter and John? Oh yes, it most definitely did! Now that the lame man was walking, leaping and praising God, they had the attention of a lot of people. An audience had gathered to see this miracle for themselves. So what does someone called to preach the gospel begin to do? Why preach, of course.

Peter saw his opportunity and addressed the crowd, “People of Israel,” he said, “what is so surprising about this? And why stare at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or godliness? For it is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the God of all of our ancestors – who has brought glory to his servant Jesus by doing this. This is the same Jesus whom you handed over and rejected before Pilate, despite Pilate’s decision to release him. You rejected this holy, righteous one and instead demanded the release of a murderer. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact! – Acts 3:12-15

You chose to kill him, God chose to raise him.
You demanded his death, he died so that you could have life.
You choose to reject him, we choose to serve him.

Peter and John were speaking of the resurrection of the dead, one of the Sadducees least favorite topics. So here come the Sadducees, priests and Captain of the Temple Guard to arrest them. But they could not undo the power that was unleashed when Peter said, “Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah” (3:19-20). After Peter’s first sermon, 3000 were saved. Now after his second sermon, the number of believers has increased to 5000 – not counting the women and children who came to faith in Jesus that day (4:1-4).

The next day Peter and John found themselves before the council of ALL the rulers and elders and teachers of religious law in Jerusalem. All the “big-wigs” were there – Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and other relatives of the high priest.

“By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?” – Acts 4:5-7

I wonder if Peter and John immediately pictured Jesus – their companion, friend and master. These were the same religious leaders who handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities to be crucified. I wonder if they remembered Jesus’ words to them:

“And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before the rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.” – Luke 12:11-12

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,

‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’

“There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4:8-11

Wow! Go Peter! A boldness came over Peter and the leaders did not know how to respond. Peter was saying that the only way to experience salvation was through Jesus, whom they had rejected and crucified. But Peter did not stop there. He made sure to add again that God had raised from the dead the man they chose to crucify. You can choose to believe it or not, Jesus is alive!

But what could the insulted leadership do? A man whom they all recognized as the lame beggar who had been sitting at the gate for more than 40 years was now walking and a crowd was outside the door praising God. In order to prevent a riot, they ended the conversation with a threat, to which Peter responded: “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” – Acts 4:19-20

The same Peter who had denied Jesus out of fear was now proclaiming his allegiance to Jesus regardless of the consequences. He went back to the believers to join them in praising God and then stopped to ask God to give all of them this same boldness and infilling of the Holy Spirit – the same things we can ask for today. Let’s pray this prayer together with confidence that God can respond in the same way for us.

“And now, O Lord hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness. – Acts 4:29-31

Last year the governor of Illinois signed a bill that takes away our religious freedom and violates the federal Right of Conscience Act. Effective January 1, 2017, all medical providers and pregnancy centers were told they must present abortion to women as beneficial and refer them to medical clinics that will perform their abortion for them. With the boldness of Peter, our response was: “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him?”

The faith-based organization I work for did NOT cave to these threats! Instead we prayed for great boldness, for miraculous signs and wonders, and for the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Last month we rejoiced as a federal judge granted us an injunction against this regulation until the case can be heard in a federal court. To those who think they can take away the right to be pro-life I say:

You choose to kill, but God desires to raise to new life.
You demand death, but Jesus died so we can have life.
You choose to reject him, we choose to serve him!

Peter Shared Everything

Today’s Reading: Acts 2:42-3:11

I find it interesting to note what the believers were doing before they were filled with the Spirit. Acts 1:14 tells us that they were meeting together and constantly uniting themselves in prayer. They had a big decision to make (replacing Judas with either Joseph or Matthias) and they prayed for direction from God. They were united by spending time together, they were united in prayer and “everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit” (2:4). That explains what they were doing before they received the Holy Spirit. Now what did they do afterward, now that they were filled with the Spirit?

LETTING GO OF EVERYTHING THIS WORLD HAS TO OFFER

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. All the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity – all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47

The believers found unity, not only in time spent together and prayer but also in their generosity toward others. The result of this unity: each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. Do we experience that kind of unity today? It is probably rare. We give of our time and join hands in prayer, but there is concern on how generous we can be without leaving ourselves in need or without the security of our possessions or income.

I saw this post on Facebook and I asked myself if I would have done the same.

Candace: Took a woman to lunch today who was begging for money on the street….my heart broke as I listened to her story of abuse as a child…and the many not so good adventures of life on the street, as well as the death of her husband…and yet she had a beauty and simplicity and genuineness about her that was refreshing…I actually thoroughly enjoyed our time together and getting to know the heart behind the tin can….Thank You Holy Spirit for prompting me to stop and take the time to look into her eyes and be a part of what You are doing in her life to bring restoration and healing and love.

Acts 3 tells us that Peter and John were approached for money by a lame man who was being carried to the Temple Gate to beg. As the man looked up at them eagerly, with expectation of receiving money from them, Peter responded, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you…” Of course he didn’t have any money, he had already sold all his possessions and given everything he had to the group of believers. So he was left with nothing to give, right? Wrong.

SHARING WITH OTHERS EVERYTHING GOD HAS TO OFFER

It was when Peter and John had let go of everything this world has to offer that they were able to extend to someone else everything that God has to offer. “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”

Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple ahead of them.

All the people saw him walking and heard him praising God. When they realized he was the lame beggar they had seen so often at the Beautiful Gate, they were absolutely astounded! They all rushed out in amazement to Solomon’s Colonnade, where the man was holding tightly to Peter and John. – Acts 3:6-11

When we let go of everything of this world and stop trying to protect ourselves or provide for ourselves, God steps in and we begin to see HIM at work. Self-preservation will get us just that – self-preservation. But letting go of this world and hanging tight to God, praying for wisdom and direction and then following His lead, will give us a life where we are daily astounded by God’s power.

DAILY GIVING GOD ALL I HAVE

That’s the kind of life I want – a life where I am daily astounded by God’s power, a life where I daily give God all that I have. Lord, open my eyes so that I can see the evidence of your work all around me. Lord, do your work through me so that you will be glorified today. Lord, help me to trust in you for protection and provision, instead of trusting in any earthly wealth I can obtain. This morning I let go and then I hang on tight to you. Empty me of all that is ME and fill me with your Spirit. Amen.

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles – all who have been called by the Lord our God.” – Acts 2:38-39

Peter Spoke Boldly

Today’s Reading: Acts 2:37-41

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter STEPPED FORWARD and preached what might have been his first sermon. Scripture says: Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles – all who have been called by the Lord your God.” – Acts 2:37-39

I WANT TO BE BOLD LIKE PETER!

We have all been called BY God TO salvation WITH the promise that we will receive the Holy Spirit. I want to have a Peter-kind-of-life! I want to BE BOLD in my actions, stepping forward and speaking God’s truths. I want to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that hearts can be pierced by what HE has for them to hear. But when was the last time I was Peter-bold?

Lord, help me to grow in YOU. Forgive me for my immaturity and my sinful attitudes. Forgive me for my delayed obedience, fear and complacency. Lord, empty me of all that is sinful and fill me with your Spirit. I know that you have called me. Lord, I wholeheartedly say “yes” to your call.

Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day – about 3000 in all. – Acts 2:40-41

Now that’s what I call being a fisher of men! Peter’s “catch” that day was great and here’s what I believe is the secret to his success:
– He accepted God’s call, took action and STEPPED FORWARD.
– He did not preach his own words but was filled with the Spirit…He got LOUD!
– This infilling of the Spirit was because he had confessed his sins and turned to God for the forgiveness of his sins.
– He persistently preached for a long time.
– He strongly urged his listeners with BOLDNESS.

How hard do we try? Do we simply live a good life and hope someone will notice and choose to follow God, or do we follow Peter’s approach? When was the last time I was “Peter-bold”?

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE BOLD LIKE PETER?

If I want results like Peter saw that day, not for my glory but for the sake of those coming to Christ for forgiveness, I must consider the possibility that there will be times when God is calling me to step forward without hesitation and be patient. It may take a long time and many discussions before a heart is moved. I may need to use persistence and passion in my approach.

PERSISTENCE, PATIENCE and PASSION – those are some powerful ingredients in my life. I need the Holy Spirit in order to have any of these. But there is one more ingredient I need – PURITY. I need the work of the Holy Spirit to purify my heart if I am going to be used of God.

If only you would prepare your heart and lift up your hands to him in prayer! Get rid of your sins and leave all iniquity behind you. Then your face will brighten in innocence. You’ll be strong and free of fear. You will forget your misery. It will all be gone like water under a bridge.” – Job 11:13-16

Joshua told the people, “Purify yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.” – Joshua 3:5

If we confess our sins, HE is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9

If you keep yourself pure you will be a utensil that God can use for his purpose. Your life will be clean and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. – 2 Timothy 2:21

So, if I want the Master to use me for every good work, I must PREPARE my heart and PRAY to Him. I must PURIFY myself, but how? I cannot make myself clean. 1 John 1:9 says that if I confess I have sinned, God is faithful and will forgive me and He will purify me from my unrighteousness. Then the key ingredient is not MY purity but HIS holiness. I love that!

PERSISTENCE
PATIENCE
PASSION
PRAYER
PURITY

These are what I need to have to PREPARE myself for all that He wants to do in and through me today. This is what I need to do if I want to BE BOLD for God.

Peter Stepped Forward

Today’s Reading: Acts 2:14-36; Psalm 110

PETER STEPPED FORWARD.

After the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter stepped forward (Acts 2:14). We could stop right there, couldn’t we? What powerful words – Peter stepped forward. Peter, the one who left his nets and followed Jesus (Matthew 4:20), the one who walked on the water toward Jesus but lost courage and began to sink (14:29), and also the one who denied him three times and then walked away – this same Peter is now the first to step forward. He was no longer sinking in his faith or pulling out a sword to fight or opening his mouth and saying something foolish. Peter, when filled with the Spirit, was STEPPING FORWARD.

Peter began to preach the first of many sermons to the crowd. His sermons often included the same general message:

That Jesus was the Messiah and His death fulfilled prophecy

That the message of the apostles could be trusted because they were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry on earth and chosen by Him to continue the ministry

That the message they were called to proclaim is of our need to confess our sins and have faith in God by believing in Jesus so that we, too, will be filled with the Holy Spirit.

“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip.” – Acts 2:22-24

GOD KNEW WHAT WAS AHEAD.

There are no surprises for God; He knows all and is not bound by time as we are. For us, tomorrow is a mystery, but there are no unknowns – no mysteries for God. God knew the people would reject Jesus as God’s son and the promised Messiah. He knew they would cry out for His death and demand His crucifixion. But He already had a plan in place – a plan to resurrect Jesus from the dead. Peter pointed out that God revealed this plan to David long before Jesus was born.

“King David said this about him:
‘I see that the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
No wonder my heart is glad, and my tongue shouts his praises!
My body rests in hope.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your Holy One to rot in the grave.
You have shown me the way of life, and you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

“Dear brothers, think about this! You can be sure that the patriarch David wasn’t referring to himself, for he died and was buried, and his tomb is still here among us. But he was a prophet, and he knew God had promised with an oath that one of David’s own descendants would sit on his throne. David was looking into the future and speaking of the Messiah’s resurrection. He was saying that God would not leave him among the dead or allow his body to rot in the grave.

“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today…So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” – Acts 2:25-36

STEP FORWARD WITH CONFIDENCE THAT GOD KNOWS WHAT IS AHEAD.

My prayer for all of us this morning is that we can STEP FORWARD into our day with confidence that God knows what is ahead for us. If He can conquer death, He can reign over any situation or challenge that comes our way. I pray that we, like King David, can see that the Lord is always with us. We will not be shaken for He is right beside us. May our hearts be glad, our tongues shout His praise, and our bodies rest in hope.

Precious Father, you have shown us the way of life – fill us today with joy in Your presence. May your Spirit BE LOUD in our life as we STEP FORWARD in faith. Amen.

A New Volume

Today’s Reading: Acts 1:14-2:13; Psalm 109, 123, 125

They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus. – Acts 1:14

As the followers of Jesus anticipated what was coming, they gathered together and united themselves in prayer. 120 believers came together and spent time seeking God in prayer.

Peter recognized that there was someone missing from this body of believers. Judas had been one of them. They had spent three years doing life with their brother and they were feeling his absence, still stunned from his betrayal. But they made the choice not to wallow in self-pity or hold on to their anger. They chose to give it to God and move on.

Let his years be few; let someone else take his position. – Psalm 109:8

Peter stepped forward and suggested they fill this empty spot with someone who had been with them the whole time, from Jesus’ baptism until now. Two men were nominated and Matthias was chosen by the casting of lots to become an apostle with the other eleven (Acts 1:23-26).

Now that this business was taken care of, there was only one more thing to do – wait for the gift Jesus had promised would come.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” – Acts 1:8a

Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit and described the result as the receiving of power. The book of Acts describes the Spirit’s entrance as a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm and like flames or tongues of fire. The sound was so loud that it was heard across Jerusalem and everyone came running to see what was going on.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE SPIRIT’S PRESENCE IN YOUR LIFE?

On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.

They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.

But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!” – Acts 2:1-13

LET’S GET LOUD!!!

The gift of the Holy Spirit is available for us today and could make a powerful difference in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Imagine the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives being so “loud” that people around us take notice. Imagine how God could use us if the Holy Spirit put the words in our mouths so that those to whom we are witnessing or ministering could understand the message – not our message, but His. What if His presence in our lives hit a whole NEW VOLUME!

At the beginning of this summer, we celebrated Pentecost Sunday – the day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. Today would be a great day to stop and consider the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and to ask God for a fresh infilling of His Spirit. To sit in our “upper room” and simply breathe in His presence and ask Him to empty us of all that is who we are and fill us with all that is Him.

Heavenly Father, fill us with your Spirit today. Give us a spirit of wisdom to direct our words and our actions. Give us a spirit of compassion to lead our hearts in the direction you pull. Empty us of our own selfish desires and give us a heart that beats for only you. May we be witnesses of your power in our lives today. Amen.