Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Parable on Repentance

Key Principle #4: REPENTANCE (part 1 )

“There is no more confused message that you and I could give
to a lost and dying world than to live in sin
and at the same time to tell people about the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
God will not use a compromised life to reach a compromised world.”

Joe Focht, pastor of Calvary Chapel of Philadelphia
2And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was ask alms from those who entered the temple; 3who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms... 6Then Peter said, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk." 7And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. 8So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them--walking, leaping, and praising God.
Acts Chapter 3

     One sadly lacking aspect of the modern church is that it has forgotten its roots. The very foundational sermon of both John the Baptist and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was a message of repentance. The gospel of Mark, perhaps the first of the gospels written, can hardly get out of the gate without laying down the word of "repentance" in the fourth verse of the first chapter.

     Peter's first sermon climaxes in Acts 2:38 with a frank and solemn response to the crowd's cry of "what must we do?"

"Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

     One of my college professors referred the book of Acts as “the Gospel of the Holy Spirit,” compared to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John being “the Gospels of Jesus Christ.” In the gospels of Jesus Christ, our Lord used parables to show the truths He was teaching. And in chapter 3 of “the Gospel of the Holy Spirit,” God uses a parable to show the story of repentance, but not a parable in words, rather a parable through a real life situation of raising a lame man.

A Parable of Repentance

The man was born lame;
we are born in sins.

He had to be carried to ask for alms;
we are helpless to save ourselves.

He looked to Peter and John, not for healing, but for alms.
Many, if not all, initially look to Christ not for a cure but for a crutch.

     Peter did not give the lame man what he wanted, he gave him what he needed. A spirit-filled believer will point sinners to salvation and once redeemed to repentance. Not only was the lame man healed, but God gave him strength to walk and knowledge not only how to walk (remember, he was lame from birth), but also how to leap and praise God. God also gives us salvation and gives us the ability to walk, run, and leap for joy in our Christian walk through repentance from sins. Though he could walk, he held on to Peter and John, and though we are delivered from our sins, we need other believers and the church to lean upon.

     When the lame man was healed, he could do many things he could never do since birth. But there was one thing he could never do again. Once healed, the lame man could not go back and beg for alms; no one would give him anything since it was made known he could walk. Likewise, we cannot experience salvation and then expect to go back to our sins and derive the same pleasures. We were saved to work out our salvation, just as the lame man was healed to work out his newly acquired ability to walk. Look at Phil. 2:12:

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

     The topic of Peter’s sermon is a topic of repentance and conversion, or changing your heart, mind, and action as a part of salvation. The lame man’s life was changed after his healing and our lives will be changed after our salvation. The man could walk, but now had to get a job and work for his income, but not for his healing. We also must repentant of our sins as spirit-filled believers, not for our salvation, but because it was for our good works we were created and saved. Read Eph. 2:10:

10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

     The church today should not at all be surprised that repentance is a major part of the New Testament, but is it a part of preaching today in our churches? Is repentance something that you find yourself doing as a regular part of your Christian life? Both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ preached a regular message of “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

     If your newspaper carries the sermon titles in its religion section, I would be utterly shocked to see such a title in any church, but it was a major if not the main topic of the sermons of the New Testament.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rewards of being Spirit-filled

Key Principle #3: SPIRIT-FILLED (part 3)
Acts 2:41-47
Rewards of being Spirit-filled

        The tongues of fire and the understood languages were used on the Day of Pentecost to proclaim the Word, will and works of God. It was a sign of God’s power for unbelievers to see that God has poured out His Spirit on them, and 3,000 people were saved. Speaking in other languages was again shown on several occasions later in the book of Acts, each with a significant reason and each with salvation for unbelievers. Paul explained later that speaking in other languages was not a sign for believers, but for unbelievers. However, using your spirit-filled tongue to proclaim a prophetic message in an understandable language is a wonderful way to edify other believers (see 1 Cor. 14:22) and a great reward for you.

        In fact, the Holy Spirit prompting us to prophesy was direct fulfillment of prophecy from Joel 2:28-32 as shown in Acts 2:17-18. To prophesy does not only mean “fore-telling” or speaking God’s truth before it happens, but also it means “forth-telling” or speaking God’s truth that should be happening now. Both sons and daughters, men and women, will prophesy, Peter said. For nearly two thousand years, there has never been so many women so ably proclaiming God’s Word as there are today. Women like Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Anne Gramm Lotz, just to name a few. Now some denominations don’t want women to serve as pastors, perhaps, but I for one don’t want them to be silenced either. And judging by the book sales, I’m not alone.

        Now it would be really cool to be able to fore-tell the future, especially in these days of economic roller coasters. But for me, I would rather forth-tell the truth of God’s word, especially if it means that people, when they hear it, will be “cut to the heart,” and be willing to change their ways (Acts 2:37). Honestly, outside of being able to be on the cover of National Enquirer, a dubious honor at best, and maybe make some serious money, or avoid losing serious money, on the stock market, what is the benefit of fore-telling the future if it is not accompanied by forth-telling the Word, will and works of God?

        Being “filled with the Holy Spirit” doesn’t mean that you don’t have the Holy Spirit when you aren’t filled (is a triple negative too hard to follow?). Let me say it again with a single negative: If you aren't filled with the Spirit, you still have God's Spirit; however, the Holy Spirit doesn’t have all of you. There may be a certain area of your life that is not under the obedience to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and that will grieve the Holy Spirit. Still, you are always sealed by the Holy Spirit all the way until the Day Christ comes and redeems us to heaven (Eph. 4:30). Don’t think that just because you don’t feel filled that somehow the Holy Spirit has left you, because Jesus promised us that even though He went away physically, the Holy Spirit indwells us and Jesus said the Holy Spirit will abide with us forever (John 14:16).

        God baptizes us in His Holy Spirit at the time of salvation and fills us a various times after salvation to accomplish His will, including that of bringing the Good News of salvation to a lost world.  We get the power to be witnesses through the infilling of the Spirit. And Acts chapter two shows us two very important lessons to remember about spirit-filled evangelism and the both deal with the calling of salvation:

1)             God is the One who sovereignly calls sinners to repentance and salvation (verse 39). It is the responsibility of God to call people to salvation.  Acts 2:39 “For the promise is to you …as many as the Lord our God will call.” Romans 8:30 shows that God initiates the call to be justified, Romans 9:24-26 states that He calls us to become His people and children. (See 1 Cor. 1:26-28, Rom. 8:28, Eph. 4:1, 1 Thess. 2:12, 2 Thess. 2:13-14, 2 Tim. 1:9, and a good concordance or for more references on God calling us)

2)             Likewise, whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (verse 21). In response to God’s call, the sinner calls out to God for saving grace. Acts 2:21 “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (See also Rom. 10:13-15). Even though God calls us, we must respond and make the calling and election sure (1 Pet. 1:10) by calling on the name of the Lord to be saved.

        As a Spirit-filled Christian, it is not your responsibility to save anyone, nor make them be saved. Once saved, the new believers were baptized, followed the teachings of the leaders, fellowshipped with other believers, participated in the breaking of bread or communion, prayed, kept regular worship with other believers, gave a good witness to others and led others to salvation (Acts 2:42-47). All we are to do is be faithful in those things and leave the results to God. Peter, the fisherman, would probably agree with this summary of the Spirit-filled life experience:

“We catch them, God cleans them!”

Risks of being Spirit-filled

Key Principle #3: SPIRIT-FILLED (part 2)

Acts 2:12-13
Risks of being Spirit-filled

        When God’s Spirit fills you, others who look at your life may become confused or perplexed by the difference He makes in your life (Acts 2:12). Others may mock you (2:13). But some will become convicted (verse 37) and even converted (verse 41).

        Speaking the Word of God will set you apart and may even intimidate others who are unsaved, or walking contrary to the ways of God. But for other believers, there’s no greater joy than being around a spirit-filled Christian and being a part of a spirit-filled church. If you don’t know for sure if your church is spirit-filled, then it probably isn’t! I’m not talking about a church which raises hands or sings great praise choruses, for that’s not the sign of a spirit-filled church in and of itself. The Biblical test of being spirit-filled is whether the Word and Works of God are present and evident and spoken of.

        Is your church constantly talking about the things of the world or are the members talking in ways that promote gossip, worldliness, materialism, money, politics, sports or entertainment? If it is the latter, then it probably isn’t a spirit-filled church. And the same goes for you and me. You see, the risk of being a spirit-filled Christian is that you’ll be different from the world and maybe even different than your church. You’ll want a church that influences the world, and not the other way around.

        It’s not easy to tell a pastor or fellow church member you wish they were more spirit-filled without coming across as judgmental, so I don’t suggest you do so unless you know you are being prompted by God. Simply live your life and follow God’s promptings. Stephen was spirit-filled, but also filled with indignation at the religious leaders and used his tongue to call them stiff-necked and rebellious. You may not get rocks thrown at you if you are spirit-filled and you are surrounded by religious people are not, but then again, you just might get a few rock-hard glares from stone-glazed eyes, peering down some steep-sloping noses. Don't say I didn't warn you!

        In a previous posting, I made a quote about people going across the globe but not going across the street to evangelize. I say that because it is certainly true of me and I say that to my shame. But I made that comment once while on a mission trip and three people heard what I said. One thought it was good, another got convicted, and a third got angry and gave me quite a tongue-lashing later on. Sometimes our tongues can be like throwing a rock into a pack of dogs: the one who barks is likely the one who got hit!

        If you want to be spirit-filled, you had better know your Bible. As mentioned earlier, spirit-filled is symbolized not with an ear or eye and blissfully not with a nose, but with a tongue. When God’s Spirit fills you, you better be prepared to speak and what you say better be true to the Bible. As we saw in Principle #2, during the fifty days leading up to Pentecost, Peter was saturating himself with the Scriptures, and those scrolls were not available at your handy-dandy corner Christian Bookstore in those days. When Peter used his tongue on the Day of Pentecost, he quoted Scripture by heart. Verses 17-21 from Acts 2 came from Joel. Verses 25-28 as well as 34-35 are from the Psalms, written by King David. Scripture memory is important in the life of a spirit-filled Christian.

        One morning, I was at the SonRise Breakfast, a weekly event in Tyler, Texas, and the guest speaker (who happened to be my pastor at the time) had slept in and forgot he was supposed to speak. Since I was on staff with him, they asked me if I had something to say, and I did and felt the infilling of the Holy Spirit as I spoke with power. Afterwards someone said he had heard me preach numerous times before, but this was the best he had ever heard me speak.

       Paul wrote to Timothy to always be ready to give a defense for your faith and to preach the word in season and out.  A spirit-filled person runs the risk of suddenly being used by the Holy Spirit and His infilling, but also may have the blessing of seeing 3,000 come to Christ, as Peter did.

Reasons to be Spirit-filled

Key Principle #3: SPIRIT-FILLED (part 1)

Acts 2:4

        Ask yourself a painful question…is your church spirit-filled? Want an even more painful question; are you Spirit-filled? I say it is a painful question because it is to me and many of the churches I’ve seen. You may answer that and say, yes, I am spirit-filled and so is my church. What does that mean to you?

        This is what it meant to the early church and what it should mean to us today. A spirit-filled church is a power-filled church and it is a witness-filled church. A spirit-filled Christian is a power-filled Christian and a witness-filled Christian. It comes as a result of waiting on the Promise of the Father, being obedient to Christ and being saved and baptized by the Holy Spirit.

Reasons to be Spirit-filled

        I’ve always had a difficult time visualizing this scene. I’ve seen it dramatically depicted in movies, but still, most difficult is how did a divided tongue of fire appear and how did it rest on people. Have you ever wondered why a tongue?

        Why not an ear? Suppose God decided that the way to demonstrate the infilling of the Holy Spirit was to have ears of fire rest on each person and then people could hear and understand other languages or even hear the utterances of God. Or suppose God wanted to manifest His infilling Holy Spirit with an eye of fire appearing on the people, allowing them to see visions of heaven, of the future, of distant lands. I think the answer of why He chose a tongue is as obvious as the nose on your face (and I think we can all imagine why God did not choose a “nose of fire” to appear, but still He’s God and he could have). He chose a tongue so as to show that we must go and tell others of the wonderful works of God, and especially how great is His salvation.

        In Genesis chapter 11, God divided the tongues of people to scatter them abroad (11:8-9). When the people had one language and one speech, they sought to make a tower to heaven, a pagan tower to exalt themselves and to make a name for themselves. They wanted to keep from being scattered and filling the earth, which was God’s first commandment to humanity (Gen. 1:28) and repeated again to Noah and his family (Gen. 9:1, 7).

        The divided tongue brought confusion and God is the one who divided the tongues and languages. Wait! Did God author confusion? Did that contradict 1 Cor. 14:33, “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” No, humanity rejected God’s commandments and thus was the cause of God coming in judgment to accomplish His will of filling the earth. In Acts, the multitudes were confused, not because they didn’t understand but because they did understand, in their own language the wonderful works of God.

        This particular type of infilling was a unique, never before occurring and never to be again repeated (at least not so far in human history) event. Pentecostal brothers and sisters and other charismatic believers may indeed practice speaking in tongues, but nothing like this. If it occurs at your church, please contact me because as I mentioned I have a hard time visualizing this. People understood not only in their language, but in their dialects.

        Pentecost came seven weeks after Passover. Passover was the first Jewish celebration of the year, marking the deliverance of the children of Israel from the bondage of slavery in Egypt (see Lev. 23:4). And of course, Passover was also the time in which Jesus died.

        Seven is a holy number and seven weeks of seven days is especially holy. Sometimes Pentecost is called the Feast of Weeks, which is a celebration of the harvest of grain (Lev. 23:16). Each celebration of the Jews foreshadows different events to be fulfilled in the church, and Pentecost celebrates the first grain harvest for the Jews, but for the church, it celebrates the first harvest of souls with the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

        Notice that the indwelling is permanent, but the infilling is not permanent. Christians must continually and repeatedly seek the infilling of the Holy Spirit, and not being filled is usually a result of not being obedient to God. An infilling of the Spirit almost always accompanies a boldness to share the Word of God (see Acts 4:8, 31; 6:5 with 7:55; 5:18-19).

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Don't Let The Accuser Keep You From Witnessing

Key Principle #2: WITNESS (part 3)

Acts 1:8-26

Don’t Let Opposition From The Accuser keep you from witnessing

      Thirdly, don’t let adversity and opposition stop you from witnessing. Acts. 1:21 says “Let another take his office.” That word office is episkopen or sometimes translated as bishop or overseer. Peter used this word of position for what Judas held. Judas had a position of leadership, as did all of the apostles, and when his position was open, Peter found a Scripture which stated it should to be filled.

      If you read Psalm 109, you’ll quickly see Peter was studying Psalms. Read verse 3, “They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, and fought against me without a cause. In return for my love they are my accusers but I give myself to prayer thus they have rewarded me evil for good and hatred for my love.”

      Peter had heard Jesus use this same Psalm 109 on the night He was betrayed. John 15:25 ("But this comes to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, 'They hated me without a cause'") proves it is a Messianic Psalm; that is, parts of this passage, written a thousand years previously, was a prophecy about Christ and also about Judas. So here in Acts, Peter quoted the same Psalm which Jesus referred to on the night Judas betrayed Christ. That prophecy said that Jesus would be hated without a cause. So Peter undoubtedly read on in the Psalms to see what else might be prophetic. He didn't have to look far. In Psalm 109:6, it reads, “Set a wicked man over him, and let an accuser stand at his right hand.” That word accuser is the word also translated as Satan. Jesus said that he had chosen 12 disciples, but one of them was a devil. John recorded that Jesus knew from the beginning that Jesus was going to betray Him. And Jesus said that Satan had filled Judas’ heart.

      That’s the way the devil works. Satan will tempt you to fall and then when you fall, he’ll accuse you of not being good enough for God and fill you with guilt and feelings of worthlessness. When Satan was through with Judas, he left him with nothing but guilt and remorse. And if we are not careful, the devil will do the same with us and effectively steal our witness.

      In Psalm 109: 8, the Psalmist, likely King David, prophetically said that Judas’ days would be few and so they were and that after his death, “let another take his office.”  Judas’ days were few, with his final days overwhelmed with guilt and the accusation of Satan. Judas walked with Christ for three and a half years, was called a disciple and part of the inner twelve. Meanwhile, that same night, a thief on the cross simply called out to Jesus and said “Remember me when you come into Your Kingdom.” 
      Both Judas and the repentant thief on the cross entered death’s dark domain that evening. Judas, who had been with Christ in life, was separated from Him for all eternity in death. The other, the thief on the cross who asked Christ to merely remember him, had lived separated from Christ in almost all of his life. But in the final fleeting moments of this existence, the thief did what Judas did not and would not do. He called upon all of God's mercy and is forever in heaven with our Lord.

      What a great testimony: we should never allow anything, including opposition, to stop us from sharing a witness to the gospel. By faith alone, a life-long thief can have eternity and without faith, a man by all outward appearances to be an upstanding Christian disciple, lost his soul.

      Look down Psalm 109:30, “I will greatly praise the Lord with my mouth; Yes, I will praise Him among the multitude.” In just a few days, Peter would do exactly that. He who was too terrified to testify and stand up to a little servant girl, would soon lead 3,000 people to Christ.           

      Don’t let excuses, failures or adversity stop you from witnessing.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Don't Let Failures Keep You From Witnessing

            Key Principle #2: WITNESS (part 2)
21 “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us ... one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection. ” ... 26 And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles."          Acts Chapter 1 
        It is this passage of Scripture that has led to an erroneous division in clergy (those who make a living as a minister) and the laity (those ministers who earn a living other than through the church). The word “lot” is kleros from which we get clergy, so whenever we read “the lot fell on Matthias,” it could also be said, “and the clergy fell on Matthias.” But as we see in Acts 1:8, it’s not just the clergy who are to be witnesses for Christ, but everyone who receives the Holy Spirit, or in other words, all Christians.
       As we saw in the previous blog, some use the excuse of "not being a member of the clergy" to not be a witness. Look at what Robert Coleman said about the division of the clergy and laity in his book, The Master Plan of Discipleship:
Biblically speaking, we cannot define clergy and laity as mutually exclusive terms…Radical distinctions between the pulpit and the pew did not develop until well into the second century. The word kleros…has the meaning of “a share, a land received by lot, or inheritance.” …When the reference is to recipients of God’s promise as the church, the terms relate to all believers who have received the inheritance of Christ (Acts 8:21; 20:32; 26:18; Rom. 4:13, 14; 8:16; Gal. 3:18, 29; 4:1, 7; Eph. 1:11; Col. 1:12; 3:24; Titus 3:7; Heb. 6:17; 9:15; 11:7,8; James 2:5; 1 Pet. 1:4; 5:3). In the New Testament usage of these term, then, everyone in the church is a clergyman or an heir of God. (pg. 11)
         But there are other reasons people use which keep them from witnessing.
 Don’t Let Failures keep you from witnessing 
        Not only should we not let excuses keep us from witnessing, but we should not let our past failures keep us from witnessing. Look at Peter. He was the disciple who whenever he didn’t know what to say, he said it anyway. Peter was a go-getter and Jesus liked that, but even go-getters get gotten at times by some type of failure.  
        During the 10 days of waiting and praying after Jesus ascended to heaven, Peter had to have been reading through the Old Testament, especially the Psalms, which still is so inspirational during times of affliction and sorrow. He obviously turned to Psalm 69 because that was what he quoted about having someone take Judas’ spot in Acts 1:20.  
        Here are some of the verses that gave Peter comfort. 
1 Save me O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. 2 I sink in deep mire where there is no standing. I have come into deep waters where the floods overflow me. I am weary with my crying, my throat is dry. My eyes fail while I wait for my God. 
        Now don’t you think that was a great passage for Peter to read? During the past three and a half years, Peter had proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God, swore he would never deny him, yet only a few hours later, he swore he never knew the man. The Bible says after the third denial, he, like the Psalmist, wept bitterly. All the disciples were grief-stricken by the events and by Jesus’ absence. Death is devastating. I don’t care who you are and how much you know that they are "better off in heaven" and free from suffering, still, death is absolutely devastating. The Psalmist said he cried so hard that his throat went dry and he couldn’t even see. There is no shame in crying over the things that God cries over.  
        Let’s read some more from the same passage which Peter read in Psalm 69:
5O God, You know my foolishness and my sins are not hidden from you. 6Let not those who wait for You, O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed because of me. Let not those who seek You be confounded because of me, O God of Israel...19You know my reproach, my shame, and my dishonor; My adversaries are all before You. 20Reproach has broken my heart and I am full of heaviness; I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. 
        At this point of loneliness and sadness, Peter turned his thoughts toward his own failures. He may have been isolated and ostracized from the other disciples. It probably sunk in to him how lonely it must have been for Jesus to have suffered and have all to forsake Him. The fisherman apostle undoubtedly continued to read this Messianic prophecy in the next verse, Ps. 69:21. “They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” 
        Peter’s heart must have leapt out into his throat from his chest when he read this, knowing that Christ had also been given vinegar to drink on the cross. Psalm 69 then speaks about calling out for vengeance on those who betrayed him. Who else was a greater betrayer than Judas himself? Talk about a gruesome, painful death, Judas’ own bowels had bloated and spilled out after he had hung himself in remorse of being used and tossed away by the devil himself. No wonder Peter quoted Psalm 69:25 and applied it to Judas. “Let their dwelling place be desolate. Let no one live in their tents.” 
        Peter failed Christ, but was restored by Him. Judas, on the other hand, failed Christ but didn’t repent and did not experience the restoration, but rather the wrath of God, culminating in his death. As the Psalmist said, “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” (Ps. 69:28) 
        If you have ever failed (is there anyone that this doesn’t apply to?), learn what Peter learned: “For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity” (Prov. 24:16). The righteous fall just like everyone else, but they get back up again. Jesus restored Peter. Don’t let your past keep you from living your future for God and don’t let your failures keep you from being a witness to God. By the way, who was it that wrote this Psalm? Oh, yeah, David. Not David the adulterer, David the murderer, David the liar. David, the forgiven one. David, the man after God's own heart, even when it was broken.
        Judas was overcome by his remorse and died. Peter, on the other hand, overcame his remorse and lived to be the leader in the church. If you have failed and you feel like you are the chief of all sinners, look at Peter. Look at Paul, who coined the phrase, “the chief of all sinners.” And ladies, look at Mary Magdalene, who was likely a prostitute, although we are not for sure. We do know that seven demons were driven out of her, yet she became a close follower of Christ.  
        So what am I saying? If you have failed in the past, just remember Peter, Paul and Mary.

Good news on book publication (kind of)

Romans 8:28 states that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes. I am claiming that on the publication of the GoJODaaT.

Crossbooks, my publisher that I have been working with for nearly a year now, has gone out of business. So why is that good news? I believe that is going to lead the book to be published by a larger publishers, either by B&H directly (affiliated with Lifeway) or another publisher such as Thomas Nelson (the publisher of my preferred translation in the book, the New King James Version).

So above is the suggested cover design and my prayer is that God will actually achieve a wider distribution than Crossbooks would have provided. Drop me a note if you will join me in prayer (I believe you have to create a log in account in order to post comments).

I will be updating my corrections to the blog over the next few weeks so that a "cleaner" reading of the devotionals will be on the internet. You may begin by going to .

Key Principles for the Church: # 2 - - WITNESS

Key Principle #2: WITNESS (part 1)
ACTS 1:8-26
6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
     Lawyers and judges say that one of the most convincing (but sometimes least accurate) evidences you can bring to a trial is to have an eyewitness of an event, depending of course on the reliability and believability of the witness.

        Luke researched the gospel and also the book of Acts by going to eyewitnesses of the events. I think it is extremely important that Luke says several times that Mary “pondered these things in her heart.” How would he know that unless he spoke directly to her?

        The use of witnesses by Dr. Luke was very important to him and it is also important to God today. God gives us dunamis power (Principle #1) for many reasons, but the ultimate reason is so that we can be a witness both verbally and demonstratively in our lives. This leads us to see that giving a testimony about our faith is the second key principle found in the book of Acts. The Greek word for witness is martyr and the English word martyr signifies the most radical form of witnessing: to testify so strongly that you suffer and possibly even die for your faith.

        If being a witness is so important and was so import to Luke and to Christ, who said, “You shall be my witnesses,” what, then, stops us from being a good witness for our faith? Another word for witness can be a testimony or a proof to the world, or in the case of Acts 1:6, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth, that Jesus is who said he was. So there may be several reasons that stop us from being a witness or a proof for Christ, but none of reasons are good reasons. There are at least three reasons that come to mind why the early disciples could have used for failing to be a witness.

        Today’s blog will look at the first reason some use: Excuses.

Don’t Let Excuses Stop You From Witnessing

      Don’t let excuses keep you from witnessing. Someone has defined an excuse as "a skin of a reason stuffed with a lie." Some people erroneously think that only certain people are spiritually gifted  to witness, and others are called for other things, such as service, mercy, teaching, giving, exhortation, pew-sitting. Yes, some people think that pew-sitting is their spiritual gift. A few of those people think that they are only called to sit on a certain pew and no one else better sit there, especially a visitor.

       Someone said in a class the other day, "I can't get up and speak. I'm no Moses." I immediately said to him, "Moses wasn't a Moses either." He immediately knew what I was meaning. Heroes like Moses, or in today's reading, Peter, were not some supernatural saints. Peter was a fisherman. Moses was a shepherd. The only thing that can keep us from being a witness is an excuse.

      The gift of an evangelist is a spiritual gift, but it’s not just the evangelists who are called to evangelize. The overwhelming preponderance of Scriptures shows that it is the entirety of the body of the church who is called to witness. In the last 20 or so years in which I have served in the full-time ministry, I’ve learned one thing (well, I hope I have learned more than one thing): I came across many more people in the ten years of secular work who were unsaved than in the years of full-time ministry work I’ve done. The reason being is that when you are in the full-time, vocational ministry, almost everyone you come across is already saved. The co-workers are saved (at least for the most part). The friends that you have in the ministry are mostly all saved.

        Now it is true that when you are in the ministry you get some opportunities to see people in an unsaved environment but the situation is not as natural as it would be if you were not in the full-time ministry. Sooner or later in a social setting, and most of the time it is sooner, people will ask you, “So what do you do for a living?” and no matter how you phrase it, the people pretty soon pigeon hole you as being a minister. My great-grandfather, who was a preacher and county minister for Parker and Palo Pinto counties, would share, “Well, I sell fire escapes.” But even with that line, pretty soon people figure it out.

        It’s like the phrase I once heard about being a Texan. You can always tell a Texan, but you can’t tell him much. Well it’s true of ministers too, you can always tell a minister, but you can’t tell him much. 

        People have an opinion of you that a minister is "paid to be good' and in many cases, the ministers are over paid for the little amount of good they do. You may laugh at that, but does that mean everyone else who is not a paid minister is "good for nothing"?

        I hope you and I are both "good for nothing". I hope that your minister would be just as good if he wasn’t paid by a church as he would be if he was. But on behalf of all ministers everywhere, if you are a part of the budget and finance committee, don’t let your minister be "good for next to nothing". Pay your minister as an esteemed member of the body of Christ and pay him well because the Bible says that the laborer is worthy of his hire.

        Even if it were true that ministers come across more opportunities to witness, to leave witnessing and evangelism only to the clergy would still be unscriptural and it still wouldn’t be right.

        The people who say witnessing is not for everyone are people who generally don’t want to be obedient to the Scriptures and as a result as we saw this morning, they don’t experience the full power of God. Notice that Jesus says “you shall be witnesses to me.” He doesn’t say, “You can be witnesses to me” or “you may be witnesses to me;” He says you SHALL BE witnesses to Me. You’ll either be a good witness or a bad witness but you will be a witness.

        There are those who want to be a witness in their Jerusalem, but they either don’t want to or cannot go to Judea, Samaria or to the end of the earth. You don’t necessarily have to be a goer, you can be a sender. That’s what the missionary offerings are for. In all of my missionary journeys, someone else has always helped send me in part or in whole, either financially, spiritually, prayerfully or emotionally through encouragement.

        On the other hand, there are some people who will go across the globe to be a witness for Christ on a mission trip but they won’t go across the street. They will go around the world, but not around the corner. God has called each of us to be a witness for Christ.

        Don't let a "skin of a reason stuffed with a lie" keep you from being a witness.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Empowering the Church: Spiritual Immersion

This is part four of empowering the church, a key principle for the church as a whole and individual Christians in particular.

Key Principle #1: EMPOWERED part 4

"...for John truly baptized with water,
but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit
not many days from now."
Acts. 1:5

The Power of Being Immersed By His Spirit

        We often are not empowered as a church and as individuals because we don’t understand what it means to be immersed with the Holy Spirit. I like the translation of “immersion” better than the word “baptized” in verse 5 because the word baptized is not actually translated from the Greek, it’s transliterated. What I mean is, the Greek word, baptizo, was not translated into an English word when the Bible was put into our language hundreds of years ago. When the Bible was first put into English, the most common form of water baptism was not immersion (that is, totally putting under water) but rather by sprinkling or pouring water over, in many cases, a baby as a form of Christening.

        In fact, the Anabaptists were persecuted not because they were against baptism, but they were against the practice of sprinkling or pouring water over babies who were not at an age to understand and become Christian believers. These Anabaptists practiced total immersion in water and it was only those who had truly professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior.

        The persecution of these believers was so severe that if anyone ever chose to get immersed, the established church would even condemn the believers to death by drowning. They essentially said, “So you want to be immersed, do you?”

        So in that historical setting, imagine the translators rendering Acts 1:5 like this: “For John truly immersed with water; but ye shall be immersed with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” Rather than face the wrath of the established church, the translators opted to simply transliterate the word and thus coined a new English word, but it obscured a central doctrine not just on the Biblical mode of water baptism, but the theological truth of Immersion with the Holy Spirit.

        Whether you believe that water baptism should be through sprinkling, pouring, immersion, or should be taken figuratively, the church today has lost the understanding that the Holy Spirit of God is to be immersed in the believer.

        When a person is immersed in his work, or a person is immersed in a book, it means to be absorbed. A ship that sinks into the sea is absorbed by the sea and a person who is immersed or baptized in the Holy Spirit is a person who is absorbed and saturated with God’s Spirit. That’s what is so special about the second chapter of Acts and the Day of Pentecost. For the first time in human history, God’s Spirit became fused into the very body, soul and spirit of a human being. Prior to that, the Holy Spirit came upon people, only to leave when God withdrew His empowering presence from that person, generally because of sin in the life of the person.

        Since Pentecost, the immersion of the Holy Spirit is permanent. Paul said that Christ in you, Christ’s Holy Spirit immersed in you, is the hope of all glory. You can no more un-immerse God’s Spirit within you any more than you can unscramble an egg or unmix your sugar and cream from your coffee. Some people think that salvation is like vinegar and oil, you have to keep it active or else it will separate. That’s not immersion, that’s cohesion; that’s not salvation, that’s salad dressing.

       So ask yourself. Are you a friend, a lover of God, so much so that you want to be a "Theolphilus" type person? Are you waiting, even actively tarrying, for God's presence and power? Are you obeying God in all things? Are you immersed in God's Spirit? If so, God’s power will abide in you.

Empowering the Church: Obedience

This is part three of empowering the church, a key principle for the church as a whole and individual Christians in particular.

Key Principle  #1: EMPOWERED part 3
Acts 1:1-8
The Power of Being Commanded By God

        We are empowered by God not only because when we wait on God, but also when we follow His commandments. Look at Acts 1:2, “He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles. Again in verse four, “Jesus commanded them...”

        If there is anything the church and we Christians hate more than waiting, it is being told what to do. Most of the conflicts within churches are from conflicts over power and who is going to “run the church.” Excuse me, but Christ is the head of the church, not the pastor, elder board, deacon board, or budget committee. And certainly not the majority rule of a church conference. I happen to be a Baptist (a Southern one at that) and oftentimes of late it has become a litmus test on church allegiance to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message, whether it be the 1963 version or the 2000 version, as if every jot and every tittle was inerrant and was fallen out from between Revelation and the maps as the 67th book of the Bible. I cannot affirm either version as being infallible because both contain the non-Biblical word, “democratic.” Now I’m an American through and through and was in Baptist church nine months before I was born. As one person said it, “You can call me Southern Baptist born and Southern Baptist bred, and when I die, you can call me Southern Baptist dead.” But I defy anyone to tell me where the word democracy is used in the Bible. A democratic vote kept the children of Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years. And after that, a majority wanted to go back to Egypt. A majority of the disciples thought Judas was trustworthy enough to keep the money bag and when he left to betray the Christ, all but Jesus thought to themselves, “Good ole Judas, he must be going off to give some money to the poor.”

        Who runs the church? Jesus. But when the church doesn’t submit to His commandments, who runs off the pastors? The church. Who runs off people who disagree with him? The pastors. Who runs off the new believers? The crotchedy old ones. Who runs off the faithful old saints? The young impudent ones. And who runs headlong into hell because the church refuses to submit to the commandments of Christ? The lost.

        When anyone in the church is empowered more and Christ, the head, is empowered less, the church itself becomes powerless. But when Christ and His commandments are affirmed and submitted to, that’s when power comes to church and its members. There once was a man who proudly proclaimed, “There ain’t anybody but Jesus going to tell me what to do!” and I applaud him for saying that, but it struck me, how do I know what Jesus is telling me what to do? Whatever it is, it sure better not contradict the clear and apparent commandments contained in God’s Word.

        When I was mentioned friendship and the John 15 passage at the beginning of the chapter, I almost didn’t want to include what John 15:14 says. But it is totally relevant on the issue of power in our lives as individuals and as the church. Look back again at the whole passage.

12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. 15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

        John 15:14 almost makes it sound conditional on whether Jesus will be our Friend. But that wonderful passage of John 15 is not on conditional friendship or conditional love, but rather it’s on abiding and obeying the commandments of Christ as a result of His love. He spoke about showing love to others and the joyful benefits of remaining in the love of Christ. Why is the church often powerless? It is because we fail to follow God’s commandments even though John clearly says that His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).

        Jesus is the one who takes the initiative in calling us friends. He laid down His life for us and by His grace alone are we saved in response to that salvation. We aren’t forced into obeying His commandments like a slave or a servant, but out of love we respond to His initiative.

        When we fail to obey or when we fail to wait, we in a sense disown our friendship with Jesus Christ and we lose our power. What is also true is when we fail to act in response to His grace and love, we also lose our access to His power. The disciples weren’t impatient; from all appearances they waited in faith, in prayer, and in anticipatory expectation of a great and mighty move of God. They waited in obedience to His greatest commandment to love one another by being of one accord.

        They were not disappointed.

Empowering the Church: Waiting

This is part two of empowering the church, a key principle for the church as a whole and individual Christians in particular.

Key Principle #1: EMPOWERED part 2

The Power of Waiting For God
        When was the last time you called upon your Ultimate Friend in the highest place to give you power? As you read the first chapter of Acts, you’ll see that power is not automatic, it is not guaranteed or unconditional, and neither is it instantaneous. In fact, there are times when the church has power and sometimes when it almost seems impotent.  But there are some prerequisites for the church to have power and the first one is one of the hardest for Christians to do: Wait.
        “And, being assembled together with them, (Jesus) commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father..” (Acts 1:4a). Put your finger in your Bible in Acts and check out the cross reference that ties this book back to the end of the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24 and verse 49. “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” The King James Version uses the word “tarry” in Luke and the Greek word is often translated as “to sit.” Now isn’t that a picture? The church has often been accused of “sitting on the premises” instead of “standing on the promises of God.” But to tarry doesn’t mean to be lazily and idly sitting around, but rather an active type of waiting, busily preparing for something great and might to come about.
        I am blessed to be married to a wonderful woman, who, at this writing, I’ve known for right at 34 years. If she’s ever left at home alone, she is hardly ever just “sitting,” she is “tarrying.” She is actively cleaning, doing a creative memory scrapbook, busily doing something. She is a Martha, constantly working and getting ready for the upcoming day, week, month or whatever. That’s what Jesus called the church to do, actively wait on the Lord for power from on high.
        The Acts passage uses a different word, unique in the New Testament, “wait for the promise of the Father.”  It combines two words, one meaning “abide, remain or stay in one place” and the second word means “around.” So in other words, Jesus said to “wait around.” While Acts 1:4 is the only place where the word is used in the New Testament, it is used in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. Check out Genesis 49:18, “I have waited for your salvation, O Lord!” There’s a longing for salvation and Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples to just hang around but to sit and expectantly await the Promise of the Father. That promise was the Holy Spirit.
        God’s promise was the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit brings with Him power from on High. Does it ever seem to you that the church is powerless? Do you feel powerless in this world? We see the advancement of the secular world, encroaching on the morals and direction of our society, in our economy, in our politics, and all the while the church becomes less and less influential in the world. Where is that “dunamis” power? The Greek word for power is of course dunamis and is the basis for the English word “dynamite” but not many churches and not many Christians could be described today as dynamic. Why? It could be that our modern church is so influenced by society that we no longer waiting on God, expectantly anticipating His power, but instead we strike out on our own.
        Waiting on God is difficult because it requires patience. I like the King James word for patience, “long-suffering,” which is what the compound word in the Greek literally means. There once was a grandmother who stood to pray before her children and numerous grandchildren at the Thanksgiving meal. She gave a long and heart-felt prayer of thanksgiving for all of her little blessings she had gathered around the table, praising God that the fruit of the womb was the gift of the Lord. No sooner than she said Amen did all of the children start clamoring and clawing for the food around the table. After a raucous roar, soon everyone noticed that Grandma was still standing with her eyes clenched tight and her mouth moving slightly. “Grandma, Grandma, what’s the matter?” the children called out. “Oh, nothing, I’m just praying for the patience to handle all the blessings He’s given me.”
        God’s blessings take patience and sometimes even long-suffering to see but they will only come if we wait patiently and with assured anticipation that God will come through. Samuel Beckett was a playwright and most famously the author of the play “Waiting for Godot.” Godot (not pronounced as I heard a radio announcer say one time as “Go-Dot” but rather it is French and pronounced GO-doh). Beckett refused to say definitively who or what Godot represented but the main man in the play waits and waits for the man who never arrives. Some people have felt they have waited and waited on God and He never arrives. I wish I could say that God always comes, like the cavalry from the old westerns, over the hill just in the nick of time. If Beckett, an admitted skeptic and agnostic, wrote his play  to mock those believers who aimlessly and errantly wait on God, only to be disappointed, he probably has a lot of people in his corner. There have been times when I’ve waited and waited on God, as a train comes barreling down the track. Sometimes I’ve jumped left when I should have jumped right, sometimes I did just the opposite and sometimes I’ve been run right down by that barreling train.
        In context to Acts 1, Jesus appeared to the disciples for 40 of the 50 days prior to Pentecost and after His resurrection. This command to wait may have been given twice, first after the resurrection, as indicated by Luke 24, and again just prior to His ascension to heaven, as indicated in Acts 1. If that’s the case, then Peter and John and a few other disciples needed that second reminder but they went back to fishing in Galilee (see John 21). Sometimes we think we are obeying and waiting on God, but we aren’t really. We know Jesus appeared to the disciples, minus Thomas, the evening after the Resurrection and again a week later with Thomas present. He made other appearances undoubtedly as Paul says Jesus appeared individually to Peter and to his own half-brother, James, the future leader of the Jerusalem church. I would think Jesus would have appeared to his earthly mother, although the Scriptures don’t explicitly state that. She was among the 120 waiting in Jerusalem when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit came. But the John 21 fishing trip may have come about when the disciples grew tarry-weary.
        In most cases, it is not us waiting on God, but God waiting on us to be obedient. We don’t have the power we need because we act like we don’t need His power from on High. We aren’t anticipating the Holy Spirit, we antagonizing the Holy Spirit by living like God doesn’t see our secret sins, hear our petty gossip, our cutting words, or our promiscuous language; we grieve the Holy Spirit by acting like He cannot see our carnal television shows and movies, or know our wicked thoughts or discern our selfish motives. We aren’t waiting on God, He is waiting on us.
        I wish I could say that ten days (the time from his last appearance and ascension into heaven) was the longest God ever calls us to wait. But do you remember how long it took for Abram to conceive Isaac? Or Joseph to see his brothers bow down to him and vindicate his being sold into slavery? How many years was it until Moses was used by God to draw the people out of Egypt? How long have we waited for Christ to return? How long has Israel been waiting for Jesus to restore their Holy Land to them? (See the end of this chapter for the answer to those questions). Paul says in Romans 8 that all of creation groans, awaiting the redemption of creation.
        Our family went through a struggle recently and a daughter of a missionary, Rhonda Smith, said that her saintly mother often would ask her during her rough years of her life, “Is Jesus not enough for you? If nothing ever worked out for you the rest of your life, would Jesus alone be enough for you to have faith?” Compared to eternity, our waiting on God is a miniscule portion of the smallest part of the proton of the Hydrogen atom in the midst of trillions of galaxies of vast creation of the universe. C.S. Lewis challenged us to imagine an endless sheet of paper, stretching out to eternity from the left to the right, from the top to the bottom, and then to take a pencil and mark a tiny line on that infinite sheet of paper. The beginning of that line would be the beginning of time and creation and the end of that line would be when time should be no more.
        And all the while, the guy behind us at the stoplight honks in the millisecond it takes for our foot to get off the brake and onto the gas.