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Keeping the Faith September 19, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Apostle Paul, Perserverance, Second Timothy.
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KEEPING THE FAITH
2 Timothy 1:13-18

In 1992 Jon Bon Jovi came out with an album titled “Keep the Faith.” Richie Sambora said, “‘Keep The Faith’ recognised how tough the nineties [were] and [tried] to encourage a positive message in… difficult times. [One of the songs, ‘I Believe’ [had the] message… that people should believe in themselves, not images they see on TV.” Keeping the faith, however, didn’t begin in the early 1990’s. Over two thousand years ago, Paul wrote about keeping the faith. The keeping of the faith also involved belief but it did not belief in one’s self but rather belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today I would like for us to understand what it means to keep the faith and what the consequences of keeping or not keeping the faith are.

A. Keeping the faith involves holding fast to the healthy teaching we have received through faith and love in Christ (verse 13). Where does this love and faith come from? In this case it came from the Apostle Paul to young Timothy just as earlier it had come from his mother and his grandmother to Timothy. When we talk of sharing our faith, we mean telling about it but these people shared the healthy teaching of the word of God because of the faith and love that they had in Jesus Christ.

B. Keeping the faith involves maintaining spiritual health through the indwelling Holy Spirit (verse 14). Notice that maintaining spiritual health is not described as coming through the filling of the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit, the baptism of the Spirit or even the anointing of the Spirit. It is simply through the indwelling of the Spirit that we are able to maintain spiritual health. It is not by becoming more yielded but rather based on the reality of our salvation. I trust Christ, the Spirit indwells me, and from then on my faith and spiritual health is dependent on the Spirit of God living in me.

Pastor Sugden of South Church was preaching once on “What God the Spirit Can Do for Us.” He said, “A fellow came to me not too long ago and said, ‘Do you tackle the dress problem?’ ‘No, I don’t.’ ‘Well, why?’ ‘Good common sense will teach us how to dress.’ Good common sense will teach us about our conduct…Good common sense will permeate our entire beings if we give God the Holy Spirit a chance in our lives. You know what I do? I pray for this every morning, because there are so many days I feel so low on common sense. There are so many situations where, humanly speaking, you have to be the one to call the plays. You have to be in touch with the living God and indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, who will give you in that hour good common sense” (taken from Classic Sermons on the Holy Spirit compiled by Warren Wiersbe, preached on February 4, 1970 at MBI’s Founder’s Week conference).

C. We must not turn away from faith in Christ (verse 15). If we do, there are consequences (Hebrews 2:1-3, “Therefore, we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation…”).

Now this seems contradictory. If I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit, I will maintain my faith but if I do not maintain my faith I will not escape eternal punishment. What does this mean for those who seem to have begun in the faith but have fallen away? This is not an easy answer but I think 1 John 2 answers it well for us. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they no doubt would have remained with us.” This should assure our hearts and help us to be serious without panic when we assess our spiritual wellbeing.

1. Turning away involves what we believe (2:17-18). There are some things that do not matter that much. It doesn’t matter whether you believe it is wrong or okay to bring food or drink into the auditorium here at church. We don’t but not because it eternally matters. There are things that matter but they don’t matter in eternity. Many of the issues we get excited about don’t matter. Sports, politics, finances, academia, entertainment. All of these have their place but they do not matter much at all. It does matter, however, what you believe about God’s Word. It does matter what you believe about Jesus. It does matter what you believe about sinful man. It does matter what you believe about God’s redemptive plan. To turn away from these things matters. To turn away from them is to allow the cancer of Satan to destroy us.

2. Turning away involves what we do (4:3, 10, 14-15). To say I believe the Bible is without error and then not to obey it is turning away. To say I believe Jesus is Lord and Savior and not to obey Him is turning away. To say I believe that God will save sinners through Jesus Christ and to try to get to God through good works is turning away from the sound pattern, the healthy regimen of doctrine.

D. We are rewarded by living out our faith (verses 16-18). We are not rewarded solely based on our belief system but rather on the outworking of our belief in Christ.

1. Our reward is undeserved (Compare verses 16, 18 with 4:6-8, 16). This is hard for us to understand. Olympians earn their medals. Soldiers earn their stripes. Our rewards, our medals, though they may identify us as faithful servants, suffering servants, and witnessing servants but the reward is not ours because the victory is not ours. Our victory is in Jesus.

2. Our reward is based on our actions toward others (verses 17-18).
“His official name was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Amadeus Theophilus Mozart…He was only thirty-five when he passed on. He was living in poverty and died in obscurity. His sick widow seemed indifferent to his burial. A few friends went as far as the church for his funeral but were deterred by a storm from going to the gravesite. By the time anyone bothered to inquire, the location of his grave was impossible to identify…He is gone. Or is he? …Then what good lives on? …that ‘Mozart touch.’ No other sound is like it…In his music, Mozart lives on [a timeless trophy]…Okay, so you’re not brilliant…Your trophy is your contribution…” (from Chuck Swindoll). This passage and many others like it indicate that our trophy is based on how we minister to others.

The question today is this. Are you indwelt by the Spirit? If you are you have been changed and are being changed. If not then you cannot, you will not maintain your faith in Christ. You will look for salvation from another way, a different way. Look to Jesus alone and be saved.

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What We Share In Christ September 5, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Apostle Paul, Body of Christ, Faith, Gospel, Hypocrisy, Reward, Second Timothy, Suffering.
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WHAT WE SHARE WITH EACH OTHER
2 Timothy 1:3-12

One of the biggest misconceptions of our modern society is that we have to feel good about each other in order to have true community or, to use a biblical word, true fellowship. As often happens, we get the cart before the horse. We often compare the church to a family. Yet we would never say that it is good mutual feelings that form a family. We recognize that love for one another is characteristic of a good family but we also recognize that a dysfunctional family is still a family.

Perhaps I can explain it this way. When our children are conceived or adopted they become a part of our family, not because they feel good about life or about the faces that greet them when they come into the world but because they are conceived into or adopted into a family. At that moment they begin to share everything with their family. In the same way, the moment one is born again they begin to share with other believers. Today we want to look at some of those things we share with one another as members of the Body of Christ gathered together at Grace Bible Church.

A. We share with each other a genuine faith in Christ (verses 3-7). The word genuine means without hypocrisy, without pretending. Faith is either genuine or it is not. Genuine faith might be strong; it might be weak but it does not pretend.

1. Our genuine faith is characterized by a pure conscience (verses 3-5). In 2 Timothy 3:5 Paul describes those without a pure conscience. They have a form of godliness but deny its power. They say I have faith but they live differently.

“Major Osipovich, an air force pilot for the former USSR, planned to give a talk at his children’s school about peace. But he would need time off during the day to give his talk, so he volunteered for night duty…Soon the Soviet pilot was caught in a series of blunders and misinformation. In the end, Major Osipovich followed orders and shot down [an] unidentified aircraft. The actions of an air force major preparing to talk about peace plunged 240 passengers to their deaths and sparked an international incident that pushed world powers to a stand-off” (Leadership, Summer 1994). We may say we have faith but our actions demonstrate whether our faith is real or not.

Those without genuine faith are “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 2:2-4). If, however you have a genuine faith, the power of God will help you to love others rather than yourself or money or pleasure. If you have genuine faith you will live humbly, in submission to and thankful for authority. If you have genuine faith you will find a way to forgive and control your temper and your tongue.

2. Our genuine faith is characterized by a powerful spirit (verses 6-7). A genuine faith does not fear because it is confident in Christ. A genuine faith produces power in the form of love for others and for God. A genuine faith protects your mind from the deception of the devil.

B. We share with and in Christ the sufferings of the gospel (verses 8-11). Paul writes Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:3, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Suffering with Christ is not optional.

1. It is our calling (verses 8-9a). Christ has enlisted us as soldiers. Soldiers suffer. They don’t take breaks during battle. At Petersburg, Virginia the Union soldiers had dug a 500 foot tunnel to a chamber under the Confederate army. In this chamber explosives were placed in preparation for a surprise attack. When the explosion was set off there were immediately 278 casualties and a huge crater formed where the Confederate soldiers had been posted. Four Union divisions were to attack immediately after the explosion to take advantage of the confusion and to hopefully bring the war to an end. The first division belonged to Brigadier General James H. Ledlie but Ledlie was not with his troops. “He was immured in a bombproof [nearly a quarter-mile away], swigging away at a bottle of rum… joined [by another of the four divisions’ commanders, Brigadier General Edward Ferrero]…It…cost Burnside 3828 men, nearly half of them captured or missing” in great part because two commanders took a break during the battle (based on Shelby Foote’s account of the battle in Volume III, The Civil War: A Narrative).

2. It is our privilege according to His purpose and grace (verses 9b-10a). Before time began God purposed to give us grace through Jesus Christ. When Jesus came, that grace and love were revealed to the world. He “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” We have done nothing to deserve this calling but called we are nonetheless. We will suffer but it is a privilege that will be rewarded throughout all eternity.

3. It is our necessity (verses 10b-11). It is one thing to be called. It is another to fulfill that calling. Paul says, “God has appointed me to suffer for the gospel but I can do nothing else.”

C. We share with and in Christ a glorious certainty (verse 12). Only the soldier who fights receives the glory of the soldier. Only the athlete who competes wins the gold medal. Only the farmer who sows, reaps a harvest. The hymn Paul quotes from in 2 Timothy 2:12 says, “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.”

“Mario Cuomo, governor of New York, writes in Life magazine about…Poppa…We had just moved to Holliswood, New York…it had some land around it, even trees. One in particular was a great blue spruce that must have been 40 feet tall. Less than a week after we moved in, there was a terrible storm. We came home from the store that night to find the spruce pulled almost totally from the ground and flung forward, its mighty nose bent in the asphalt of the street…We stood in the street, looking down at the tree. ‘Okay, we gonna push ‘im up!’ [Poppa said]. ‘What are you talking about, Poppa? The roots are out of the ground!’ ‘Shut up, we gonna push ‘im up, he’s gonna grow again.’ …So we followed him into the house and we got what rope there was and we tied the rope around the tip of the tree that lay in the asphalt, and he stood up by the house, with me pulling on the rope and Frankie in the street in the rain, helping to push up the great blue spruce. In no time at all, we had it standing up straight again! With the rain still falling, Poppa dug away at the place where the roots were, making a muddy hole wider and wider as the tree sank lower and lower toward security. Then we shoveled mud over the roots and moved boulders to the base to keep the tree in place. Poppa drove stakes in the ground, tied rope from the trunk to the stakes and maybe two hours later looked at the spruce, the crippled spruce made straight by ropes, and said, ‘Don’t worry, he’s gonna grow again…’ If you were to drive past that house today, you would see the great, straight blue spruce, maybe 65 feet tall, pointing up to the heavens, pretending it never had its nose in the asphalt” (Leadership, Winter 1993).

This is what we share in Christ. We share in a genuine faith in Him, a faith that produces suffering here on earth and a glorious reward in eternity. We will reign with Him in His kingdom here on earth. We will celebrate with Him the great Passover, when He for the first time drinks of the fruit of the vine with those of us who have put our faith in Him and have been translated from the kingdom of darkness into His kingdom of light.

Being in God’s Will Like Paul Was August 27, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Acts, Apostle Paul, Body of Christ, Cross of Christ, Glory of Christ, Prayer, Will of God.
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BEING IN GOD’S WILL
Acts 28

As we come to the close of Paul’s career as recorded in the book of Acts, there are a couple of things that we need to recognize.

1. Paul still had several years of ministry ahead of him, yet he had already fulfilled God’s specific will in his life. God had said that Paul “is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16). Paul had already done all this. If he had never made it to Rome, Paul would have fulfilled God’s will in His life.

2. We also need to recognize that God’s will for Paul’s life and for your life is pretty much one and the same. God expects the same things from you that He expected from Paul. God expects all of us to be committed to the cross of Christ, to the body of Christ, to the glory of Christ in our life. So if you want to be in God’s will you have to commit yourself to telling others the gospel of Christ; you have to integrate yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, temporally, financially with some portion of the body of Christ, that is, the church. You also have to commit yourself to the glory of Christ. Why do we live righteous lives? So that He might be glorified through them. You may choose the wrong career, you may choose the wrong wife, you may choose to attend the wrong church but if you are invested in the cross of Christ, the body of Christ, and the glory of Christ, you are in God’s will.

A. Being in God’s will is a place of safety in the midst of danger; therefore, we can have peace (verses 1-10). I would refer you to today’s bulletin insert on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He made a choice that put him in great danger because he was confident of God’s will. Yet he did not escape the wrath of the Nazis. Yet he died with peace that his death would be the beginning of life.

The story of Paul being bitten by a poisonous snake is a fascinating story. I have never been bitten by a snake but I can image the horror they all must have felt as Paul got bit. Once as a teenager I was entering the house we lived in. I opened the screen door and a little snake which had crawled up to the top of the door fell on to my wrist and began to wrap itself around my wrist. You have never heard such hollering or seen such dancing as I performed at that moment. I slung my arm so hard that the snake flew ten to twenty yards out in the air and landed in the grass. That snake never had a chance to bite me.

Notice, however, that the snake fastened his fangs onto Paul’s hand. I am sure Paul did not just calmly flick the snake into the fire. He felt the pain of the fangs entering into his hand. Whatever he did with his hand was certainly a reaction of pain, surprise, perhaps even fear. Paul, however, did not die. He did not even get sick. There were the marks in his hand but he did not die. I can imagine Paul wincing at the pain in his hand from the bite but the poison had no effect. Why? God was not through with Paul yet.

Later Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:8, 13-14, 16, “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…that He would grant you…to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man…”

Are there dangers? Of all kinds! When, however, we are in Christ and we are committed to His cross, His church, and His glory, we can have peace.

B. Being in God’s will is a place of success in the midst of difficulties; therefore, we can take courage (verses 11-15). Bonhoeffer during his imprisonment at Tegel prison wrote about success, “We must be determined not to be outraged critics [of success] or mere opportunists. We must take our full share of responsibility for the moulding of history, whether it be as visitors or vanquished…To talk about going down fighting like heroes in face of certain defeat is not really heroic at all, but a failure to face up to the future. The ultimate question the man of responsibility asks is not, How can I extricate myself heroically from the affair? but, How is the coming generation to live? …The rising generation will always instinctively discern [whether] we are acting upon [concrete responsibility] for it is their future which is at stake” (Prisoner For God, p. 17-18).

The brethren Paul met as he approached Rome were probably strangers to him. It is likely that Paul had no idea how he would be received. Yet a small group came, thrilled to see him and Paul took courage that God had paved the way for his arrival with brethren who cared for him. This small group was a confirmation of God answering Paul’s prayer recorded in Romans 15:30-33, “Now I beg you, brethren…that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me…that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you…” Paul had thought he would just be passing through on his way to Spain but God had other plans and God prepared Paul’s way before him. That is why Paul took courage when he arrived at Rome.

C. Being in God’s will is a place of significance in the midst of obscurity; therefore, we can bold to preach the gospel (verses 16-31). Do you want to be significant? Then your message better have eternal value both in this life and the life to come. Do you want to be significant among the men and women of history? Then you better stand with the family that will rule the universe, the church of the living God. Do you want to glorify God? Then you must glory in His cross and in His people and live accordingly.

As our missions conference comes closer, we need to understand that our significance is found in proclaiming the gospel to this world.

1. Some of our hearers will turn away. These people had interest in Paul’s message. They listened to Paul’s message. They even understood intellectually Paul’s message. They still walked away because they did not believe the message and were not transformed by it.

2. Some of our hearers will be healed and transformed (verse 20). These people had the same background. They had the same interest in Paul’s message. They listened to the same teaching that the rejecters listened to. They had the same intellectual understanding that the rejecters had. They, however, believed the message and were saved by it.

“A TV news camera crew was on assignment in southern Florida filming the widespread destruction of Hurricane Andrew. In one scene, amid the devastation and debris stood one house on its foundation. The owner was cleaning up the yard when a reporter approached him. ‘Sir, why is your house the only one still standing? …’ ‘I built this house myself,’ the man replied. ‘I also built it according to the Florida state building code. When the code called for 2×6 roof trusses, I used 2×6 roof trusses. I was told that a house built according to code could withstand a hurricane. I did, and it did. I suppose no one else around here followed the code’” (David R. Culver, Leadership, Winter 1993).

Are you in God’s will? If you are you will be saved. Are you inviting others into God’s will? That is the only way to guarantee they will be saved.

The Value of Faith August 20, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Acts, Apostle Paul, Faith.
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FAITH AND FOOLISHNESS
Acts 27

In Decision Making by the Book Haddon Robinson tells about a time when in Colorado he was speaking to a young lady at Denver Seminary about her seeking God’s as to whether she should go skiing. He writes, “I asked her how she expected to determine God’s will on the matter…she said, ‘Well, I put out a fleece. If my daddy sends me some money, then I’ll know that skiing is something God wants me to do…I haven’t asked him for any money lately, and I figure if he sends me money I’ll know God wants me to go skiing.’ … ‘Look,’ I asked her, ‘if you’re really going to put out a fleece, why not a good one? …Why don’t you pray that the president will send you a letter, and in that letter there will be a check that will give you enough to go skiing? And if you’re really going to follow Gideon’s example to the limit, pray that you get a second letter and a check from Britain’s prime minister the next day…That’s the type of miraculous sign that Gideon wanted from God…he was asking for two miracles, and he got them both!’”

We want to live by faith but sometimes in our attempts to live by faith we fall into foolishness. In this chapter we see clearly the difference between Paul, a man who lived by faith and a group of men who lived by foolishness.

A. We all have faith in something (verses 2, 4, 7). The sailors and soldiers in these verses put their faith in the natural protection that staying close to the shore provided. It is not that they are risk adverse but at that time prudence outweighed risk in their decisions. They were confident that they were safer staying close to shore.

Christians should not be risk adverse. In fact, to be a true Christian by definition is a risk. To believe in someone who we have never seen but not just to believe in that person but to love that person and to rejoice in the belief that what he has promised we will receive is seen as a great risk in this day. We would rather depend on money than God’s promises. We would rather depend on our political philosophy than God’s providence. We would rather depend on our educational systems than on taking up our cross and following Christ. Why? Because our faith is in something or someone besides Christ.

B. Faith, no matter where or in whom it is placed, does not guarantee us an easy life (verse 8). This verse is talking about the coasts but it applies even to our faith in Christ. Faith, whatever it is in, does not guarantee an easy life. In fact, it is the difficult times that prove whether your faith is real or not. Real faith does not falter. It is when you experience pain that your faith is tested. It is when you are offended that the reality of your faith reveals itself. It is tested like gold in the fire.

C. We all make mistakes in our decisions no matter where our faith is placed (verses 9-20). Leith Anderson in Leadership that Works tells how that his father was a successful pastor for over three decades outside of New York City in New Jersey. He later served briefly in Florida where he was not able to duplicate his success. “What was different? Frankly, it’s hard to say…No leader may ever assume that what works will in one place will work well in another. If Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. had traded places in history, we probably never would have heard of either of them.” Even if your faith is in the right place, even if your confidence is in Christ, you may make a mistake.

1. Sometimes our desires override our faith (verses 13-14). These men left the safety of the coast because they desired strongly to get to Rome and suddenly the wind seemed to cooperate. They are thinking, yes, ride the wave. The circumstances changed to fit their desires and so they set off. Unfortunately, for them the circumstances drastically changed again.

2. Sometimes our decisions result in hopelessness (verses 14-20). These men made a decision. It seemed like a reasonable decision at the time but it quickly became a disastrous decision. There is no hope. They will die because they made the wrong decision.

D. When our faith is in God we can have confidence even in the face of hopelessness (verses 21-26). Edwin “Bull” Sumner, called “the Bull of the Wood” because of the loudness of his voice “assembled his corps on the north bank [of a river], near the two bridges he had built [for an emergency crossing into battle], Foaming water had buckled them; torn from their pilings, awash knee-deep in the center, they seemed about to go with the flood. When the order to support…arrived and the tall white-haired old man started his soldiers across, an engineer officer protested that the condition of the bridges made a crossing not only unsafe, but impossible. ‘Impossible?’ Sumner roared. ‘Sir, I tell you I can cross! I am ordered!’”

This was the attitude Paul had. For over two years God had allowed him to remain imprisoned for this purpose, to preach the gospel in Rome. Paul had been ordered. God would deliver him to fulfill that order.

E. We should allow through the open expression of our faith to inspire hope in others (verses 27-44). Kent Hughes in Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome tells of going through a period of hopelessness in which he expressed his desperation to his wife. He asked her, “‘What am I to do?’” She said, “‘I don’t know what you’re going to do. But for right now, for tonight, hang on to my faith. Because I believe. I believe that God is good. I believe that He loves us and is going to work through this experience. So hang on to my faith. I have enough for both of us.’”

Many today are looking at hopeless situations. Maybe you blame the decisions of others. Maybe you blame your own decision. Maybe you blame the change in circumstances. Maybe you blame a combination of factors. Maybe you even blame God for your hopeless situation. If, however, you are following Christ then the situation may look hopeless but God will bring you exactly where you need to be. Hang on to your faith. Hang on to your faith.

Next week: Being in God’s Will (Acts 28)

Knowing Jesus August 14, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Acts, Apostle Paul, Christ, Deity of Christ, Humanity of Christ, Jesus.
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KNOWING JESUS
Acts 26

This week we will be teaching on the theme “Knowing Jesus” in our Five Day Club program. We will be telling the children who Jesus is and how they can know him.

There are, however, many today who say we cannot know much about Jesus. There is almost no one of reputation who claims that Jesus never existed but there are many who feel that we cannot know much about him. PBS, the History Channel, the major television networks and other major media outlets hold to this position. When you watch their specials on Jesus and early Christianity they hold to the position that a small sect developed a life of Christ based on what they already believed and through clever propagandizing and eliminating evidence of opposition they were able to establish themselves as the true followers of Jesus Christ.

Now this is theory but that doesn’t disturb the major media outlets. For them the Bible holds no real historical value and one speculation is as good as another when you feel there are no facts.

What I want to do this morning, however, is show, based on Paul’s testimony in Acts 26, who Jesus is. Paul’s testimony is important because he is considered by non-conservatives to be the most reliable witness we have of Jesus Christ. Luke records for us his defense before Agrippa and in that defense we see three important aspects of Jesus’ life that are corroborated in his earliest writings and which are foundational for what we believe and what we will be teaching the children during this next week.

A. As Jesus of Nazareth he was raised from the dead for our hope (verses 6-9). In this statement we see that Jesus was human, was humiliated, and was exalted and that in His exaltation we have hope of exaltation also in eternity. Paul saw this as being the fulfillment of the promises of God in the Old Testament.

Now why should we believe Paul? The reason is this. Paul at one time persecuted the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. This time of persecution, however, was brief because Paul became a believer in Christ anywhere from a year to four years after Jesus rose from the dead. Paul had plenty of time to confront eyewitnesses of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. This did not happen decades later but just a few years. He not only had the opportunity to confront Jesus’ followers but he worked for those who had caused the Romans to crucify Jesus. So it is clear that Paul’s testimony of Jesus of Nazareth as really a man who lived, was really crucified, was really buried, and who was exalted in that He really was raised from the dead; should be serious considered because of the nearness in time and proximity by Paul to the participants in the event.

Paul describes this resurrection as his hope but not just his hope but the hope of his nation and the hope of all men. If Jesus be not raised, then there is no hope for you and there is no hope for this world.

B. As the Lord, Jesus demands that we turn to him by faith (verses 14-18). Now we need to determine what Paul was talking about here. When he heard the voice from heaven, he replied, who are you, Lord? The word “Lord” had three uses in those days. One was in reference to a governing authority. On the road to Damascus there were no ruling authorities present. The word was also a common word of respect, much like our word “Sir.” That is perhaps possible but after being knocked off your horse to the ground by a blinding light the third possibility is more likely. Paul was not saying, “Who are you, Sir?” but rather “Who are you, God?” Paul, no doubt, already had a suspicion who he was talking to. The voice had said, “You are persecuting me, why?” The reason was very clear. Beginning from Pentecost the disciples had been preaching that Jesus is Lord, and that Jesus is God, and that apart from Him there is no salvation. Paul knew the message but now he was confronted with a choice: believe or not believe that Jesus is the one and only true God.

C. As our Christ, Jesus fulfills for us all that God intends with us (verses 19-23). Paul reminded Agrippa again of the promises of the Old Testament. The promised Messiah has come. Will you, King Agrippa, bow before Him as your Messiah, the one who will bring you to God, the one who will save you from your sin? You know what God has said through His prophets in the Old Testament. Jesus of Nazareth has fulfilled those promises. I know you believe the prophets. Will you become a Christian? Agrippa answered, “You’ve almost convinced me, I’m almost persuaded.”

“In 1871 Reverend Brundage expounded upon this sad story in Acts, and then ended his Sunday Morning sermon with the words “He who is almost persuaded is almost saved, and to be almost saved is to be entirely lost” (Accessed at http://www.sharefaith.com/guide/Christian-Music/hymns-the-songs-and-the-stories/almost-persuaded,-the-song-and-the-story.html on August 9, 2012).

P. P. Bliss heard that sermon and was so impressed he wrote the following verses for a song, “‘Almost persuaded,” Now to believe; ‘Almost persuaded,” Christ to receive; Seems now some soul to say, ‘Go, Spirit, go Thy way, some more convenient day On Thee I’ll call’”
‘Almost persuaded,” Harvest is past; ‘Almost persuaded,” Doom comes at last; ‘Almost’ cannot avail; ‘Almost’ is but to fail, Sad, sad that bitter wail, ‘Almost, but lost.’”

D. When we recognize Jesus of Nazareth as our Lord and Christ, we become a true Christian (verse 28). Agrippa recognized what it means to be a true Christian. It is not enough to believe in the man Jesus of Nazareth. He must be recognized as Lord and Christ, that is, as God and Savior. The only who we should worship and the only one who can meet our deepest need, salvation from sin, death, Satan, and hell.

1. The result is that we turn from serving darkness to serving light. No man can serve two masters. You can live in both darkness and light. This week as we minister to these children, as we tell them the story of Jesus, we will be showing them the light. On Thursday the theme will be Jesus is the Light of the World. Do you believe that? Have you been praying for children to turn from darkness to light?

“Members of a Russian sect found living in an underground bunker with some 20 children, many of whom have never seen the sun, have been charged with child abuse. Authorities said the Islamist cult had existed for nearly a decade without natural light or heating in their subterranean dwelling. The expansive man-made cave was discovered underneath a brick building on the outskirts of the central city of Kazan…Deputy prosecutor Irina Petrova told journalists the bunker’s rooms were like ‘cells,’ lacking sunlight and ventilation. ‘According to the agency for control of public facilities, there are eight levels of rooms, where not only children but adults live as well,” she said…Many of the cult’s children, aged between 18 months and 17 years old, were born underground and had never seen daylight until officials sent them for health checks.”
I understand that this is an extreme example of a spiritual truth but that is exactly what we are trying to do. Jesus has left us here as the light of the world. It is our task this week to help bring boys and girls and their families from darkness into the light of life, Jesus Christ.
2. The result is that we have confidence before God and man. Paul is bold here. Why? He need not fear death because His master, Jesus Christ, has cheated death. He need not fear the authorities for he serves the God of the universe. He need not fear disaster for he serves the Christ who came to save the world from the greatest disaster, the disaster of sin and death and darkness.

If you have been persuaded to follow Christ, are you doing all you can to get others to the light, Jesus Christ? If not, then pray tell me, with what are you as a Christian wasting your time. Introduce people to Jesus.

Next week: Faith or Foolishness (Acts 27)

Guilty of Hope August 7, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Acts, Hope, Paul's Life.
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GUILTY OF HOPE
Acts 24

When I was a kid we had two girls in our church, who used to sing a country gospel song. The song was called “Guilty of Love in the First-Degree.” It speaks of the condemnation of Jesus Christ to the cross and that the real reason for His crucifixion was his love for us.

Today I want to talk about what we are guilty of. I trust you are guilty of love in the first-degree. Our Lord desires us to be guilty. There is, however, another crime that I trust you are guilty of, the crime which Paul here claims to be guilty of, guilty of hope.

A. We, who hope in the resurrection, strive to live differently (Acts 24:14-16; compare 23:6). Christians do not need a bucket list. I was asked last week if I had played in the band the same way that my son does now. I replied that I had not but that sometimes I thought that would have been nice (I did not have the opportunity), but then I added but it really doesn’t matter. I have all I need. Christians can be content because the best is yet to come. Christians can rejoice in suffering because of the hope of resurrection. The greatest adventure in our life is still to come.

1. We strive to have a conscience without offense before God. There are steps in which it is possible to have a conscience without offense before God. The first is in that we have put our faith and trust in the crucified and resurrected Christ for salvation from sin.

The second step is that we continually cleanse ourselves as believers before God. This is evidence which shows we have taken the first step according to 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Often people apply this to the unsaved but the question being answered is “How do you know that you have fellowship with God?” Through agreeing with God’s evaluation of your sin and depending on His Son for salvation from sin, you show that you are a righteous son or daughter of God, cleansed from every stain of sin. Why do we do this? We do this because we hope in Jesus. First John 3:1 reminds us that everyone who has this hope in Him purifies Himself.

Let me illustrate what it means to be without offense before God. “Dr. Roy Gustavson, working with the Billy Graham Association [is credited with a story about] a man in England who had purchased a Rolls Royce. The man decided to take a holiday in Europe and he wanted to take his Rolls Royce with him to tour through the French countryside. So he put the Rolls Royce on the ferry and went across the English Channel. He was going through Europe, looking at the sights, when suddenly his Rolls Royce broke down and there was nobody there who could fix it. He sent a cable back to the company in England and they flew a man over who did the repairs. He got the car running again, then left and went back to England. The man thought to himself, “This is going to cost me a ton of money.” They never sent a bill. When he finally got back to England, never having received a bill, he sent a letter to the company telling what had happened, how the mechanic had come over, and wondering what the charge would be. He got a letter back from the Rolls Royce Company, saying as follows, ‘Dear Sir, Thank you so much for your letter. You need to know that we have no record in our files that any Rolls Royce has ever broken down at any place, at any time, for any reason’” (Taken from Ray Pritchard’s “Keep Believing” website, http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1995-02-26-Justification-Not-Guilty!/).

2. We strive to have a conscience without offense before men. Part of the point that Paul is making here is that he is not guilty of any crime. There are, however, other places where Paul maintains that he has sinned against no one. First Thessalonians 1-2 seem to indicate that this is one of the reasons their ministry in Thessalonika was so effective.

There’s a cemetery outside Florence, Alabama, near the remains of an ante-bellum mansion called Forks of Cypress. The mansion was built in the 1820s by James Jackson, an early settler of northwest Alabama. A quarter-mile away is the Jackson family cemetery. There is no sign marking the spot, only a five-foot high stone wall surrounding about 50 graves. Inside is a tall marker over James Jackson’s grave with a long inscription extolling his virtues, which were many. There is, however, another marker for one of his sons, William Moore Jackson. There was his name, the dates 1824-1891, and this simple five-word epitaph: “A man of unquestioned integrity.” Five words to sum up an entire life. Sixty-plus years distilled into five words. But, oh, what truth they tell (adapted from Ray Pritchard at http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1996-08-18-Five-Words-on-a-Tombstone/).

B. We, who hope in this life, strive to get what we can out of this life (verses 24-27).

1. When we live for this life, we have little interest in righteousness (compare Philippians 3:8b-10). Paul writing here notes that there are those who are interested in righteousness but are looking in the wrong place, that is, they are keeping the law in order to become righteous. Paul, however, makes it clear that righteousness is only possible through the resurrected Christ.

What good, however, is righteousness to Felix. Righteousness cannot buy fine clothing. It can’t build a villa in the country. Righteousness does not buy very much down here. I wonder if Paul was thinking about Felix when he wrote these words in Philippians 3:18. “For many walk…. [as] enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame – who set their mind on earthly things.”

2. When we live for this life, we have little interest in self-control (compare 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Paul writing here notes that what we do in this life matters in the life to come. We practice self-control in order to win an eternal gold medal. That is the type of crown spoken of here. We win.

What good, however, is self-control to Felix. Self-control can accomplish much in this world but self-control apart from the hope of the resurrection gains nothing imperishable. Ariston of Ephesus wrote about his Olympic experience competing in and winning the pankration (wrestling) at an ancient Olympiad, “As soon as we arrived the Hellanokikai divided us according to our age and told us: ‘If you have worked to such an extent that your are worthy to go to Olympia, and if you haven’t done anything despicable or proven idle, take heart and move on. Those of you that didn’t work go wherever you want’…. On the day of the inauguration of the Games we all assembled in front of the statue of Zeus Orkios, to take an oath that we have rigidly followed the training for ten consecutive months. …I faced the winners of the other matches and defeated them all. The crowd cheered and applauded, as the judge crowned me with the kotinos, the wreath from a wild olive tree branch. I accepted modestly the crowd’s applause, proud that I bestowed glory and everlasting fame on my city” (accessed at http://www.fhw.gr/olympics/ancient/en/ariston.html on July 30 2012). Ephesus is still known but not because of Ariston. In fact Ephesus is best known by men like Paul, Timothy, John the Revelator, and Polycarp: men who disciplined themselves for an eternal crown, bestowing glory and everlasting fame on an eternal city.

3. When we live for this life, we have little interest in the judgment to come. Paul told Felix in Acts 24:15 “that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust”. Paul implies that the just, the righteous, those whose self-control was to gain a heavenly crown will be judged and rewarded but those whose God is their belly, whose self-control was to gain an earthly reward will be judged because they have no righteousness with which they can stand before God at that final day.

Remember those who attempt to gain righteousness by keeping the law. They will suffer the same fate as those who do not seek righteousness at all because they did not seek their righteousness in the death and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

Next Week: Meeting Jesus (Acts 26)

The Providence of God July 30, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Acts, Apostle Paul, Providence.
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THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD
Acts 24:11-23

The Puritans had “an extraordinary awareness of God’s providence. This, in turn, produced the Puritan practice of keeping diaries…John Bartlet advised Christians to ‘meditate on the experience you have had of God’s faithfulness, and[the] goodness you have had in all his providences…. To help you herein, you shall do well to make a catalogue and keep a diary of God’s special providences’ ” (from Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were by Leland Ryken, pp. 209-210).

In our passage today we see God’s providence at work. God is not working a miracle by changing the laws of nature to correspond to his will but rather is guiding natural events to accomplish his will. It may be that you have not been paying attention to God’s working in your life. I trust you will learn from Paul’s life that our times are in His hands and because of His providence we can rest now in Him.

A. We need to recognize that God’s providence is for the accomplishment of His purposes, not for ours (verses 11-15). That is what God is telling Paul in these verses.

1. Paul had plans to go to Rome (Romans 1:15; 15:22-33). He had plans to go to Jerusalem and had asked the church in Rome to pray that Paul would be accepted by the Jewish church in Jerusalem (which prayer God answered) and that he would be kept safe from his unbelieving enemies (which prayer God did not answer). After he left Jerusalem, he planned to stop in Rome on his way to the mission field of Spain.

2. God also had plans for Paul to go to Rome but they were not the same plans. God’s timing was different. It was several years later before Paul ended up in Rome. God’s purpose was different. As a prisoner of Caesar, Paul had opportunities to proclaim the gospel which he never would have had by entering the Roman house churches or in a Jewish synagogue. He preached to more Jews, he preached to more Gentiles, he even had the opportunity to go before Caesar. Whether he ever went to Spain, we do not know but he accomplished what God planned for him.

“Paul, in his letter to the Christians at Philippi, expressed his opinion about how God used the circumstances of his arrest: ‘I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly (Philippians 1:12-14)’ ” (from Decision-Making by the Book by Haddon Robinson, page 104).

3. God used the evil intents of Paul’s enemies to accomplish His plans. Remember what Joseph said to his brothers when they feared after the death of their father that Joseph would get even with them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:19-20).

B. God’s providence is the explanation for coincidences (verses 16-22). As one goes through this story of Paul going from Ephesus to Rome, only once, near the end of the journey does God do miracles and those miracles had little or nothing to do with Paul ending up in Rome.

1. God puts people in place at the right time (verse 16). Henry Blackaby tells about his church trying for two years in Saskatoon, Canada to start without success a Bible study in the dorms. One day he told the college students in his church, “‘If someone starts asking you spiritual questions, whatever else you have planned, don’t do it. Cancel what you are doing’…. On Wednesday [of that week] one of the girls reports, ‘Oh Pastor, a girl who has been in classes with me for two years came to me after class today. She said, ‘I think you might be a Christian. I need to talk to you.’ I remembered what you said. I had a class, but I missed it. We went to the cafeteria to talk. She said, ‘Eleven of us girls in the dorm have been studying the Bible, and none of us are Christians. Do you know somebody who can lead us in a Bible study?’” (from Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby, pages 70-71).

2. God controls the actions of those who are in authority (verses 17ff). The book of Proverbs tells us that the king’s heart is in the LORD’s hands. In the days of Augustus a decree went out that all the world should be taxed. As a result of that decree, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. I hate taxes and I generally vote against them but I pay them because it is right and and I do it knowing that God will use my taxes to direct His will in someone’s life.

C. We make our decisions confident in God’s providence (25:6-12). Paul said, “No, I am going to appeal to Caesar. I am not going to let you have me killed at the hands of my countrymen. I know my rights, give them to me.” Felix said, “You’ve appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go.”

“Years ago [Ray Pritchard] spoke to a man whose wife had been in and out of drug rehab several times. Her struggles with drugs and alcohol (and his struggles with anger) had reduced their marriage to a shambles. It may have been the most hopeless marriage [Pritchard] ever saw. But through nothing less than a miracle from God, they somehow pulled through and survived a crisis that lasted for the better part of a decade. One day the man looked [Pritchard] in the eye and said, ‘I now understand that it had to happen the way it did.’ It takes great faith in God to say something like that, and it could only be said at the end of the ordeal, looking back and seeing that even the worst moments were leading to something much better.”

We will not in every case be able to look back and say we understand. That is not promised us by God. What is promised is that whether those tough times are coming, or they are behind us, or whether we are in the midst of them, we can be confident that God’s ways are perfect.

This is not an excuse to make bad decisions or to pawn off on God our bad decisions. It is, however, an assurance to us that God always does what is right and that we need to align ourselves as best we can with His ways, His will, and His word.

If you live confident in God’s providence you will learn to avoid the bitterness that plagues so many people and will learn to forgive others more easily.

If you live confident in God’s providence you will learn to suffer patiently and with longsuffering, knowing that His will is perfect.

Are you confident in God’s providence?

Next week: Guilty of Hope (Acts 24-25)

Life After Death July 23, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Uncategorized.
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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DIE?

Acts 23

 

Death is a difficult issue to think about. I think that is why the book of Ecclesiastes says that a funeral is better than a party. A funeral brings us back to reality. President Obama has called the nation to reflection and prayer because of death.

 

Perhaps you’ve read about Jessica Ghawi, the young lady who died in the tragedy at Aurora, Colorado. She had escaped a similar tragedy in Toronto just a few weeks back. Those of us who weren’t involved in Toronto had already forgotten about it. We had moved on to other tragedies. That is the way life is lived nowadays. This young woman, however, had written in her blog about escaping the incident, saying, “I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath.”

 

Like I said, death is a difficult issue. It is a difficult issue because life is so precious that to lose it is a devastating loss. To deal with it, we make jokes.

 

“Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Bill and George who were both avid baseball players. One day they wondered if people played baseball in heaven. They agreed that whoever died first would find out the answer and try to come back to communicate with the survivor. Eventually Bill died. Several weeks later George was awakened with a vision of his friend Bill. He was delighted to see him and asked, ‘Do they play baseball in heaven?’ Bill said, ‘I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, they play baseball all the time in heaven. The bad news is, you’re scheduled to pitch next week’” (from Ray Pritchard).

 

You may have smiled and humor has a very important place in dealing with death but I think we can do better than that. I want us to look at the Bible’s answer to the question, “What happens when you die?”

 

  1. There are two answers, depending on who you are. First of all, for us as believers, being absent from the body means being present with the Lord. This is a quotation from Philippians 1. Paul in prison expressed his longing to be with the Lord. He was certain that death meant immediately to be with Jesus.

 

  1. This was Paul’s view here in Acts. Although he was using cleverly the question as a part of his defense, the question of the resurrection is first and foremost a question about what happens immediately after you die. The Sadducees lack of belief in an angel and in a spirit, that is, in life after death, is much different than Paul’s view. He expounds on it in 2 Corinthians 5:1-9. “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”

 

Paul did not merely believe in life after death. He believed in a new creation. In other places like First Corinthians 15, Paul writes about this new creation, describing it as Christ’s victory over death. N. T. Wright says in his book, Evil and the Justice of God, “When we think of a world unreachable by death, we tend in Western culture to think of a nonphysical world. But the truly remarkable thing Paul is talking about here is an incorruptible, unkillable physical world. New creation is what matters, a new kind of world with a new kind of physicality, which will not need to decay and die.” That is what Paul means by the clause, “…so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

 

  1. Paul’s view was consistent with the Pharisee’s view, which was the common view of the Jews in Jesus’ day. In the Old Testament, the witch at Endor was shocked to see a ghost. However, in Jesus’ day and in the book of Acts people believed in ghosts. We use the word spirit because the word ghost is associated with haunting and Halloween. That was not what the Pharisees thought about. They believed that the spirits of those who died were reserved until such time that they would be raised from the dead. This was not talked about much in the Old Testament. Daniel talks about it and this was believed after the time of Daniel but it was not based on long passages in the Old Testament but rather on snippets of truth. It was reserved for the New Testament and especially Paul to talk about our future after death.

 

  1. It was contradictory to the Sadducee, that is, the priestly family’s view. The party of Sadducees was conservative. They lived according to the letter of the law, rejecting the many traditions and rules that the Pharisees had added to the Jewish faith. They were not liberals as you will sometimes hear it said. It is popularly believed that they did not believe in angels. That view is based on a misunderstanding of verses eight and nine. You will find it in many commentaries. In Vermont I had a perceptive young person ask how it could be that the Sadducees did not believe in angels when they obviously believed as priests and strong believers in the Old Testament in the supernatural. N. T. Wright has in the last decade explained what the Sadducees seem to have really believed. Their hope was not that of a resurrection but was that of a good reputation and a moral legacy for the next generation to build on. In other words your “angel” or your “spirit” simply ceases to exist when you die. What a hopeless view of death.

 

John Donne, like a lot of poets, wrote a lot about death. We are most familiar with the line, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” He wrote, however, a more hopeful line about death and resurrection, “One short sleep past, we wake eternally; and Death shall be no more; Death, thou shall die.”

 

On the other hand, I should point out that death is not easy for us as believers to handle even though we believe that our angel or our spirit will continue to exist. “Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse—beloved Bible teacher of another generation—told the following story. While he was still a young man in the ministry, his first wife died. As he was returning from the funeral with his heartbroken children, their car came to a stoplight just as a massive truck pulled up next to them, blocking the light of the sun. Seeing the immense shadow that had overtaken them, Dr. Barnhouse asked his children if they would rather be run over by the truck or by the shadow of the truck. ‘By the shadow,’ the children instantly replied, knowing that a shadow could not hurt them. ‘That’s what has happened to your mother,’ he told them. ‘Death cannot hurt her because the Lord Jesus Christ took her to heaven. It is only the shadow of death that took her from us’” (from Ray Pritchard). That is the reason we have hope because we realize that for the believer death is only a shadow.

 

  1. However, for unbelievers, being absent from the body means being held for judgment in hell. Jesus’ description in Luke 16 is an awful description. There is much I don’t understand about hell. I do know this. I don’t want to go there.

 

This rich man appeared to die well. He died wealthy. But to die and go to hell is not my idea of dying well. If you want to die well, you have to live well and to live well you must know Jesus Christ as your Savior so that you can right now have eternal life.

 

  1. For believers and unbelievers there will be a resurrection which will be followed by evaluation and/or judgment. Hebrews tells us, “It is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgment.” It matters for all of us how we live because after we die, we will be held accountable.

 

Does our lives here as believers matter? Absolutely, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10. That verse was written to believers about the ministry we have of telling others the gospel of Jesus Christ. I do not believe that we will lose our salvation but it will be a terrible thing to give account for what we have done or not done in our bodies.

 

The unbeliever will be judged also, but his judgment is different. The judgment of the believers comes before eternal life. The judgment of the resurrected unbeliever comes with eternal death.

 

     Augustine was preaching to his congregation one day. “Let me address the lover of this present life. What are you doing, why are you in such a hurry, why so full of dread, why taking to your heels, why looking for a hiding place?

     In order to stay alive, he says.

     Really to stay alive? To stay alive in such a way as to be alive always?

     No.

     Then you aren’t going to all this trouble to destroy death, but only to delay it. If you go to such lengths just to die a little later, why not do something in order never to die at all?” (from Sermon 302).

 

Paul’s Defense Suggests What We Need to Do As We Witness July 10, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Acts, Apostle Paul, Testimony, Witnessing.
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PUTTING A BURR IN THE SADDLE
Acts 22

(From RBC by Martin DeHaan accessed at http://beenthinking.org/articles/giving-facts-a-chance/ on July 3, 2012) “In the early 1950s, a small Chicago-based religious sect predicted that the world was going to end on December 21, 1954. Their leader claimed to have received this information from an alien reincarnation of Jesus who went by the name of Sananda.
Their prophecy caught the attention of researchers from Stanford University, who decided to use the group as a case study in human nature.

Recently, author Chris Mooney wrote an article for Mother Jones magazine describing what the researchers learned. Since they were able to infiltrate the group to do their study, they were able to observe firsthand what happened when December 21 passed without incident.

First the researchers saw the confusion that occurred as members of the group tried to explain their mistake. Then the unexpected happened. The leader claimed to receive a new communication from Sananda. The new message was that the little group had not failed. On the contrary, they had saved the world from judgment by believing in the prediction. From that moment on, believers in Sananda were more convinced than ever of the truth and value of their mission. They adjusted their view of reality rather than admitting they were wrong.

So why is the study of this small religious sect worth thinking about? According to one of the researchers who studied them, this little group of fanatical believers remind us of a principle far greater than their numbers. ‘A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.’

The article goes on to suggest that many of the disagreements that divide us are rooted in our natural instincts for survival. To protect our beliefs and emotional attachments, we push threatening ideas away and pull friendly information closer. This begins to happen subconsciously even before we are aware of what is happening. Self-protective reactions mobilize thoughts and emotions to protect our beliefs as if our life depended on it.”
In our passage today we see an example of a group of people who did not want to face the facts. From this we can learn some lessons.

A. Our community may not moved by our personal testimony. It is interesting that in this scientific world that we live in, most of the decisions that we make and many of the things that we believe are not based on facts that can be demonstrated in the lab. I am not only talking about religion but about many things that intelligent people do, to take just one example, abusing their bodies with all manners of drugs, although it is clear that such abuse is destructive.

Why do people do this? Because many if not most of the decisions we make are not based on scientific facts but rather on what the accumulation of our personal experiences tells us.

1. Our society admires and confirms personal experience. This is true of conservatives and liberals. We value our experiences above any other source of truth. We value what we feel. We value what we think will give us safety or security or meaning or whatever it is that we think we need most. The problem with experience, however, is that not everyone has the exact same experiences. Maybe eating ice cream and Cheetos for breakfast has worked for you, made you more productive but I have functioned better on watercress and cucumbers. It is hard to judge and evaluate someone else’s experience. Unless we find someone’s personal experience threatening in some way, we tend to admire and confirm it in others.

2. Our society does not understand our personal experience with Christ. They may listen, they may affirm it, but they will not because they cannot understand our personal experience with Christ. That does not mean that we should not share it but they need more than personal experience. They need their conscience pricked.

B. Our community may not be moved by our miraculous experiences. It is interesting that the large number of books like “23 Minutes in Hell” do not seem to have an impact on the world. They may sell well among believers but the world seems not to be interested.

1. Many of them have also had miraculous experiences. It is not unusual to find unbelievers who have had amazing experiences. One of the leading atheists of the last century (A. J. Ayer) had an out-of-body experience in which he reportedly saw a “Divine Being” (see http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/roundtable/an-atheist-meets-the-masters-of-the-universe.php). Yet Ayer although noticeably different after “he died” did not become a Christian. Those who rejected Jesus did not disbelieve his miracles but simply attributed them to the power of the devil rather than the power of God. Belief in miracles does not necessarily open one to belief in Jesus Christ.

2. Those who doubt our miraculous experiences often will simply ignore us. This was true in Jesus’ day also. Marcus Borg, by no means a fundamentalist Christian, in “Jesus, A New Vision” wrote, “In the tradition in which [Jesus] stood, including the healings and exorcisms reported of him were not unique. Yet though the historical study of the miracles results in the loss of their uniqueness, it produces a gain in their credibility. Contrary to the modern notion that such events are impossible, we must grant that the historical evidence that Jesus stood in the stream of Jewish charismatic healers is very strong.” Perhaps this is in part why Jesus’ popularity before his death was short-lived and fickle.

It is also why the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so powerful. To cast out demons, to heal the sick, these things are not unusual. To rise from the dead never to die again; that is powerful, life-changing, gives hope, establishes a foundation, a solid rock on which one can stand with full confidence in the future.

C. Our community will be bothered when they see life transformation. This is evidenced when Paul accuses them of Stephen’s murder and proclaims that God wants Gentiles to hear the message of Jesus Christ. It is only when men are held personally responsible for their own sin and what repentance should produce in lives that they will be forced to make a decision. They understood the implication of Paul’s message. Ethnic and religious loyalty resulted in sin against the resurrected Christ.

Yet that is exactly where we must touch them, where it really hurts. It does no good to operate on the big toe if it is the thumb that is broken. Jesus recognized this when he said, “It is the sick and not the well; which need a physician.” If you constantly tell people who think they are okay that there is something seriously, morally wrong with them, they will react. That is, however, what they need to hear from us. They need to hear that they are sinners in the hands of an angry God, a God who is angry with their sin and will be angry with them if they do not turn from all of their loyalties and give their sole loyalty to Jesus Christ.

Acts 21 Being in the World but not of It July 5, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Acts, Apostle Paul, Christian Living.
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BEING A CHRISTIAN IN AMERICA
Acts 21:15-40

As believers in Christ we are in the world but not of it. That means we have to understand what is the world and our relationship to that world. The world in this sense is not the creation or even the population of this planet on which we live but rather the evil system in which Satan and sinful men work together and which tempts us to sin. There is in our flesh a natural draw to that world of which we must be aware and against which we must resist.

The Bible teaches that every nation and government is a part of this world (In the book of Daniel, for example). That means that we as believers must beware of the specific temptations presented by being citizens of whatever nation of which we are a member.

This is not an unusual problem. It has been faced by every generation of Christians. It was faced by those who lived in the Roman Empire both before and after it became “Christian.”

It also was a problem for the Jew. Remember that when Jesus spoke of being in the world and not of the world he was speaking to believing Jews about how they were to relate to their unbelieving but religious background.

We find in this passage in Acts Paul’s application of being in the world and not of it. There are four principles to which I would like for us to respond as we look at this passage.

A. The goals of our lives are determined solely by service to the gospel of Christ (verses 17-20a).
B. How we practice our patriotism must be determined by our goals as believers in Jesus Christ (verses 20b-25).
C. The world should not take kindly to us because of our service to the gospel of Christ (verses 26-36).
D. Our national citizenship is a gift from God to be used for service to the gospel of Christ (verses 37-40).

1. The goals of our lives are determined solely by service to the gospel of Christ (verses 17-20a).

Ray Pritchard tells of hearing “about soldiers who on the eve of a desperate battle said to each other, ‘Have you died yet?’ They meant, ‘Have you stopped trying to save your life and do you understand that to be a good soldier means you may die in the great battle?’ It’s that sort of mindset that Paul cultivates here. If this life is all there is, then we need to be cautious and careful in all that we do. But if there is another life beyond this life, and if we know that someday we will be raised from the dead, then we can risk it all for the sake of the Kingdom.”

2. How we practice our patriotism must be determined by our goals as believers in Jesus Christ (verses 20b-25).

Paul had been preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and he as well as the church in Jerusalem had recognized that to demand believing Gentiles to keep the law was to put a burden on their Christian faith (see Acts 13 as well as the book of Galatians). Rumors, however, among the believing Jews asserted that Paul was teaching that the Jews abandon the law to serve Jesus Christ. This was not true but the rumors were calling Paul’s patriotism as a Jew into question. If Paul’s patriotism as a Jew was being called into question then it would make the ministry of the Jerusalem church more difficult. James, therefore, asked Paul to not only take a Jewish religious vow but to also pay for the incurred expenses (sacrifices, perhaps) of four men from the Jerusalem church.

Why would Paul do such a thing? Because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He did not have the mindset of “How dare they expect that of me? Don’t they respect my rights? I have my pride?”

In this day and age, questioning someone’s patriotism is a weapon often used in the media. People go out of their way to make sure that no one pays the patriotism card against them. Through the ages peoples have rewritten history so that their patriotism would be supported by the “facts.” We, however, as believers in Christ are disciples first and patriots second. We are to bear the cross before we bear the flag. Our message is a message of freedom in Christ not the virtues of democracy.

Does your love of the gospel govern your patriotism? I’m not talking about your views of environmentalism, gun control, taxes, or health care reform. In a sense I am not even talking about abortion or freedom of religion issues. I am asking, “Do those who know you best know that you rank your love of the gospel of Jesus Christ above any patriotic or political or philosophical ideals? Is your attitude toward your community governed by your love for the gospel of Christ?

3. The world should not take kindly to us because of our service to the gospel of Christ (verses 26-36).

Why did these Jews from Asia oppose Paul? His message was a threat to their world. If Jesus is the Christ, then they would be destroyed along with the pagan nations of the world. If Jesus is the Christ, then their self-righteousness would accomplish nothing in this world or in the next. Is this not true for us? If Jesus is the Christ, then our attempts to lift ourselves above the nations of the world smacks of rebellion against God. If Jesus is the Christ then the sacrifices we make for so many good and even great things pale in significance to witnessing to our neighbor who is lost and going to hell. If Jesus is the Christ then we will be willing to risk our lives to love and forgive one another. If Jesus is the Christ then we will keep his commandments and live for the Kingdom of eternity rather than the kingdom of this earth.

Moral stances swing back and forth. This is especially true of a democracy. What our nation perceives as right today may be wrong tomorrow. Think of the stances of our nation on alcohol. That is the way democracy is. The people decide what is right and wrong. The message, however, of the gospel of Jesus Christ will never change. The attitude of our nation toward the gospel will change from time to time but our gospel will never change.

4. Our national citizenship is a gift from God to be used for service to the gospel of Christ (verses 37-40).

Should we hate what our nation has become? Should we rebel against our nation? Absolutely not, the Bible teaches that we must respect our leadership regardless of who they may be or what they may stand for. There is, however, something positive that we should do. Use our citizenship on earth for the furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have freedom of religion. Let us practice it as soldiers bearing the cross of Christ. We have freedom of speech, let us witness of the gospel to all we can. We have freedom to assemble, let’s attend church every time the assembly is called. We have freedom to vote, let us vote with his gospel first and foremost in our minds. Let us be good citizens. Let us be better Christians.