The Act of COURAGE (Acts 23)

“The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome’.”
Acts 23:11

It is a joy to return to preaching through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

As we arrive in Acts 23 in our sermon series we find Paul continuing to have opportunity to give a defense of the gospel of Jesus.  Even when facing opposition, Paul both speaks with courage and is reminded by God to take courage as there is work yet to be done.  As we seek a greater obedience to living the word of God, we must also be able to hear God’s word tell us, “Take COURAGE!  You still have work to do.”!

  • Conscience:  Paul is able to speak with courage because his conscience doesn’t fill him with fear.  He announces boldly to his accusers that he has a clear conscience when it comes to his duty to God.  Many times, we dwell on our failures, mistakes, and sin to the point that our conscience fills us with so much fear that we fail to live and speak with courage.  Paul was not perfect, he even calls himself the worst of all sinners, but he understood the freedom of living in God’s grace and forgiveness.  When our heart is aligned with a pursuit of God and our will is being molded and shaped to be more like His will, we will have a conscience that propels us forward with courage instead of holding us back in fear.  When we are engaged in the Act of COURAGE, we must make sure our Conscience is clear before God so it is our ally and not our enemy. 
  • Opposition: Even when we deal appropriately with our conscience, Opposition will often stand in the way of our having real COURAGE.  Sometimes we overestimate the opposition, sometimes we underestimate it, and at times we even see it accurately.  The problem we face usually doesn’t have so much to do with the opposition as it does with our view of the One giving us courage.  God gives us courage to face opposition by reminding us that He is always with us — that He will never leave us or forsake us.  It is in the midst of opposition that we have opportunity to learn what real courage is.  When we face Opposition, we can take courage because the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world.
  • Understanding:  We can gain COURAGE through Understanding as long as we are very careful not to lean on our own understanding.  Paul uses his understanding of the crowd in Acts 23 to present the gospel of Jesus in a way that caused them to question each other for a time rather than focus on opposing him.  He also understood where the real battle was and that the real enemy was trying to fill him with fear to distract him from the work God had created for him to do.  It is our understanding of the spiritual nature of the true battle we are in that should lead us to courage as we realize that the enemy has already been defeated.  When we make the effort to understand the person our opposition seems to come from, we take a step forward in disarming fear so that courage can be found.  When it comes to living out the Act of COURAGE, we would do well to gain understanding of our opposition and, more importantly, a greater understanding of our source of courage.
  • Risk:  COURAGE is rarely visible unless there is some form of Risk present.  It is in the face of great risk that we find out for the moment if fear or courage has the upper hand in our life.  Paul is talking to a crowd that is already very angry yet in order to remain faithful to teaching about Jesus he risks deepening the anger even further by speaking of the resurrection of the dead.  Later in the chapter when a plot is concocted to take Paul’s life, he risks everything by entrusting his very life to the work of his nephew as a messenger and in the willingness of the Roman officials to protect him.  Life is full of risks that we will never fully avoid because we can’t fully see the outcome of our actions or the actions of others.  While it may still feel like risk because we can’t see the outcome, we can never go wrong when we walk by faith in doing the things God has called us to and has prepared in advance for us to do.  The Act of COURAGE isn’t the absence of Risk, it is understanding the risks and doing the right thing regardless.
  • Accusation/Attack:  This part of living with COURAGE is simply another side, a more personal side, to the opposition that we face.  Satan is good in his role as the great accuser and seems to work constantly at removing courage far from us.  It is the Accusations and Attacks that plant seeds of doubt about the clear conscience God has given us when we live in relationship with Him.  Paul’s enemies realized that God had filled him with great courage so silencing him wasn’t enough — it simply wasn’t going to work — they would need to personally attack him and bring his life to an end.  When the attacks come, and they will, it is important that we remember, and are reminded, that God has forgiven us, accepted us, and given us an important work to do.  It is He that gives us the needed courage to press on toward our high calling.  When living the Act of COURAGE, we must recognize that the Accusations and Attacks that come our way are from someone weaker than the One who lives within us.
  • Government:  It is often hard to consider that Government should have anything to do with the Act of COURAGE — particularly in the context of having the courage to share freely about Jesus.  This part of courage may vary greatly depending on where you live but even in the very “non-Christian” government of first century Rome, Paul could grow in courage because of his rights and protections as a Roman citizen!  Paul eventually appeals to Caesar, and receives an audience with him, not for the purpose of gaining freedom but to courageously speak of Jesus.  We can learn much from the respectful way Paul would approach government authorities — even when he knew their actions toward him were wrong.  We make good use of the courage God fills us with when we use it to present Jesus to the governmental authorities around us.  When we consider the Act of COURAGE in our life, the Government that exists on earth can both give us courage, and be spoken to with courage, when we realize that the authority they possess has been given to them by God.
  • Explanation:  The purpose of our COURAGE is so we will not only be ready but that we would give an Explanation for the hope we have in Jesus.  Courage is like many things — you never really know how much you have until you try to use it.  God’s purpose in telling Paul to take courage was so he would take the boldness of his testimony about Jesus to Rome.  There are times that we work so hard to have, or grow in, courage so that we can face one fear or another but usually it is for our benefit rather than because we want to be more effective in sharing a bold explanation of our life in Jesus.  The courage God wants to give us isn’t so we can be a more fearless person, it is so we can be a more faithful witness!  As you grow in the Act of COURAGE, may your opportunities to give and Explanation for the hope of Jesus in you increase.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of COURAGE?  Do you live life with a clear Conscience before God?  Will you face Opposition with the knowledge that God’s power within you is greater than he that opposes you?  Will you seek Understanding from God’s perspective of the situations you find yourself in?  Will you recognize the Risks that you face and choose to do the right thing regardless?  Do you turn over the Accusations and Attacks that come your way to the One who has already defeated them?  Will you realize the role God has given Government so that you would know how to take the message of Jesus to your governmental leaders?  Are you ready to use the courage God gives you so that you would be ready to give an Explanation for the hope of Jesus in you to all who would ask?  I pray that your response to the Act of COURAGE will boldly show, and tell, the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

The Act of ANSWER (Acts 22)

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:15

After having the month of August off, it is a joy to return to preaching through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

As we arrive in Acts 22 in our sermon series we find Paul publicly giving his testimony as a result of being arrested for being at the center of a riot.  Paul seemed to understand what Peter would write about being ready to give an answer — even in times where it might seem safer to just blend in and not speak up.  As we seek a greater obedience to living the word of God, we must also be ready to give an ANSWER.

  • Acknowledge:  As we prepare to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us, it is important that we acknowledge we started at the same place as the person who needs to meet the hope we have.  Paul begins his defense — his answer — in chapter 22 by acknowledging that he not only understands their concerns but for much of his life he was right there with them leading people in the very actions they were involved with.  Sometimes as Christians our answer falls on deaf ears, at least in part, because we don’t acknowledge we were once just as lost as they were.  We want to forget that part of our life.  We want to believe we have always been in a right relationship with God — but we haven’t been!  Our acknowledgement is a necessary part of our answer so that people can see there is hope for them to experience the change that Jesus offers.  When we are engaged in the Act of ANSWER, our Acknowledgement of where we’ve been can help others see they are not beyond the reach of God’s grace. 
  • Notice: For our answer to be as effective as possible, it is important that we actually notice who we are talking to!  Paul appears to do this as he chooses to address the crowd in Aramaic.  As you read the text, it is obvious that using this language gets the crowd’s attention.  Remember, this wasn’t a friendly crowd wanting to hear what the traveling preacher was saying — it was an angry mob already in turmoil over what Paul had been teaching.  If we are going to excel at giving an answer with gentleness and respect, it is imperative that we notice everything we can about who we’re talking to!  Too often we put our foot in our mouth because we’ve not paid attention to the details.  So, our mouth opens and out comes something offensive, making whatever truth we may have shared to fall on deaf ears.  When we Notice as much as possible about the people around us, God will use those details to guide our words in the Act of ANSWER.
  • Speak:  While this part of our answer should be obvious, it is often the most difficult because it represents the point of no return.  Paul writes to the Romans that faith comes by hearing the word of God and that hearing the word of God requires that someone speaks it.  Paul would not only speak as part of his answer about his faith, he would speak as much as possible in a language that his audience would understand.  A life lived fully in the hope Jesus offers will often get people’s attention but what will we do with it?  The speaking we do about our faith in Jesus must come from both our acknowledgement of where we started and from the things we notice about those we speak to.  When it comes to living out the Act of ANSWER, there does come a point where we must Speak about the incredible hope that we have in Jesus.
  • Willing:  To know these first three elements of the Act of ANSWER is good, but doing it typically requires that we ask the question of ourself, “Am I willing?”.  Even when we know the importance of the hope that we have, many times we are intimidated into not being willing to share it.  Paul had been told he would suffer much for sharing about Jesus yet he was willing to keep giving an answer because he knew it was the only way others would know about an everlasting hope.  Instead of letting fear drive our silence, we must be willing to step up and speak up every time God gives us an opportunity to share about our relationship with Him.  Are there people we are not willing to speak to because we think they’re unreachable or undeserving?  According to God, knowing the good we ought to do and not be willing to do it is sin.  The Act of ANSWER will never by attempted by us until we are Willing to be obedient to God in all things and make the most of every opportunity He gives us.
  • Expose:  There is a perceived downside to the Act of ANSWER and that is that it has a tendency to Expose both us and those we give the answer to.  When our answer is filled with the honesty and integrity that it requires, it reveals that we started at the same place as those hearing our answer — we were a sinner in need of God’s grace.  Paul’s answer to the crowd exposed to them that even in his strongest held beliefs before meeting Jesus, he was wrong.  God uses that same answer to also expose the need in the lives of those listening.  It appears that Paul was being listened to, and perhaps even had agreement from among the crowd, until his answer exposed a great sin of prejudice.  Everything was good until Paul stated that God had sent him to the Gentiles.  That was more than the crowd could stand!  Their racial prejudice was so ingrained that they would seek to rid the earth of Paul rather than accept that God desired all people to be saved.  Our answer, or lack of one, can expose just how much, or little, we believe that Jesus is the only way to God.  Who we tell, or don’t tell, can expose our layers of prejudice and lack of faith in God’s power to change anyone who would turn to  Him.  Our speaking the truth in love will many times expose the hatred, hurt, and rejection in the lives of those listening.  The problem isn’t the exposure, it is what do we do with it.  God’s call is for His light to expose, and dispel, the darkness so that mankind would no longer live and walk in it.  When done effectively, our Act of ANSWER gives out the light of Jesus so that the deeds of darkness are Exposed.
  • Respectful Rights:  As we give an ANSWER for the hope that lies within us, we do so recognizing that we have Rights that must be used with Respect.  Paul was not afraid to speak up for his rights in a respectful way in order to have even greater opportunity to speak about his faith in Jesus.  When about to be flogged in an attempt to get the truth out of him, Paul simply asks, as a Roman citizen, if doing so is right.  While some of our rights vary based on the country we reside in and the government we live under, God tells us that our relationship with Him through Jesus gives us the right to be called children of God.  Even when our rights seem to be non-existent or eroding away, do we use what we have to increase our opportunity to speak about our hope in Jesus?  When exercising our rights with respect will lead to hardship for us, are we willing to still speak up about Jesus?  Sometimes it is not so much that we have our rights taken away from us as Christians as that we have given up our rights as Christians because they create a hardship for us.  The opportunities we have in the Act of ANSWER often increase when we know the Rights given us by both God and our earthly authorities and we exercise these Rights with Respect.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of ANSWER?  Do you Acknowledge that you started at the same place in regard to God as those that you are giving your answer to are in?  Will you take the time to Notice everything you can about those to whom you will express the answer you have for your hope?  Can you Speak up and put your answer into words that others can understand?  Are you Willing to make the most of every opportunity?  Do you allow the light of Jesus Expose the truth about Him, about you, and about those you share with?  Will you be Respectful when you use your Rights to gain greater opportunity to share about your relationship with Jesus?  I pray that your response to the Act of ANSWER will boldly show, and tell, the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

The Act of [Good]-BYE (Acts 21)

“After saying good-by to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.
Acts 21:6

It is a joy to preach through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

As we arrive in Acts 21 in our sermon series we find Paul continuing to say good-bye to people as he makes his way to Jerusalem.  As he travels, he always seeks out believers at every stop to spend time with them and say, “BYE”.  Even when warned of trouble ahead, Paul presses on to accomplish the work God has equipped and called him to do.  Let’s learn from Paul how to make our “good-bye’s” become Godly BYE’s.

  • Beliefs:  Being able to say a Godly BYE when the time comes is based on having Godly Beliefs.  Paul sought out believers everywhere he went because his life was completely about his belief in Jesus.  Even when faced with warnings of danger, Paul could say “bye” to his fellow believers and continue the journey to Jerusalem because of the firm belief he was doing what God had called him to do.  It was at Paul’s conversion recorded in Acts 9 that Jesus made it clear that Paul would proclaim Jesus to the Jews, to the Gentiles, and to their kings and rulers.  It is also stated that Paul would be shown how much he would suffer for the name of Jesus.  It seems Paul knew what was coming.  Perhaps the warnings that the Spirit was giving through other people was for their sake and not Paul’s.  When we are engaged in the Act of BYE, our belief in Jesus and His calling in our life must be firm enough to move forward even when people try to persuade us not to. 
  • Yielding: In order for our Godly belief to do us any good in the Act of BYE, we must also live a Godly Yielding.  It is one thing to know what God is calling you to do and quite another to actually do it!  Again, Paul had been shown by Jesus what to expect in his life.  Even when his heart was torn by heartfelt and personal pleas, Paul was committed to yielding fully to the will of God.  He did not allow his love for God to be overtaken by his love for people and their love for him.  He was able to keep the first and greatest commandment first, and the second one second.  Sometimes we have great difficulty in saying a Godly bye because we struggle in the area of yielding to God.  We let our relationships with people get in the way of full obedience to God.  Other times we are on the reverse side of the situation and do our best to hold someone else back from yielding to God because it might mean they have to say a BYE that we don’t want to hear.  Learning to yield fully to God and to allow others to do so as well is an important part of living the Act of BYE.
  • Equipping:  Probably the secret to an effective Godly BYE is a thorough Godly Equipping.  It is nearly impossible to read the writings of Paul and not see the importance he placed on his role in equipping people to be complete believers in Jesus.  Even as he journeyed to what he knew would be trouble and hardship — even the end of his life — he constantly stopped to equip people to be ready for his ultimate departure.  The equipping wasn’t simply preparing them for what he would face, more importantly it was preparing them to carry on with the gospel message when he no longer could.  While the elements of belief and yielding are imperative to being able to say a Godly BYE, it is this element of equipping that allows the BYE to be said with full confidence that his race had not been run in vain.  We can have the most Godly belief and pursue a completely yielded life but we will never be ready to fully express a Godly BYE until we have equipped those around us to “follow me as I follow Christ”.  When we are growing in the Act of BYE, we need to be deliberate about our role in equipping the people around us to be disciple making followers of Jesus.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of [Good]-BYE?  Are your Beliefs firmly grounded in instruction from God through His Spirit and His Word?  Do you constantly examine your life in light of God’s Word so that you are fully Yielding every aspect of your life to God?  Are you actively involved in Equipping the people around you to be ready to take up the baton once you’ve finished the race?  I pray that your response to the Act of [Good]-BYE will boldly show the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

The Act of LIFE (Acts 20)

“Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
Ephesians 5:15-16 

It is a joy to preach through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

As we arrive in Acts 20 in our sermon series we find Paul completely engaged in the Act of LIFE, even knowing that he is nearing the final leg of his journey.  Paul’s relationship with Jesus had not simply become a part of his life — it was his life!  It is in the midst of this Act of LIFE that we find Paul speaking until midnight only to be interrupted by a young man falling out a window and dying.  Not to worry — Paul raises him to life, takes a short break, and resumes teaching until daybreak!  Lets look at some key characteristics from Paul’s Act of LIFE.

  • Living:  Some have said that life is what happens while you are busy trying to figure out how to make a living.  Paul understood that life was all about who you were living for!  Paul would make plans and express desires but always sought, and listened to, God’s direction for his travels and life.  He wanted to live in obedience to God.  While he had his preferences, it didn’t matter where he was or how he got there, he was living for Jesus.  If we want to see the world turned upside down for Jesus as it was in the first century, we must begin by living completely for Jesus at all times.  Day in and day out, Paul lived for Jesus no matter what.  Wherever he went he would worship God, seek out believers, and teach publicly and privately about Jesus being the only way to God.  When we are engaged in the Act of LIFE, our living for Jesus must be full-time and evident to all who are around us. 
  • Instruction: Another part of the Act of LIFE that Paul lived out was the act of Instruction.  Even on a tight time schedule, Paul does not neglect his responsibility and calling to pass on instruction in The Way to the people around him.  In this chapter, as Paul heads toward Jerusalem, there is a quick stop in Troas where Paul teaches all night because he is leaving in the morning.  Part of the great commission is a command to teach everything that Jesus commanded.  Unfortunately, far too often we fail to be involved in instruction from either side.  Either we think we know everything and don’t need instruction or we’re intimidated by others and let fear keep us from giving instruction — or more likely, a combination of both.  Paul understood the great need to pass on all that he had learned from his pursuit of God.  The Act of LIFE calls us to be involved in bringing up, discipleing, those who are coming up behind us.  Learning to take Godly instruction and to be involved in passing on Godly instruction is an important part of living the Act of LIFE.
  • Farewell:  Part of the Act of LIFE that can be very difficult for many people is the act of Farewell.  Goodbyes can be very difficult because they seem so final and we’re not always prepared for that.  Paul understood the importance of using farewells to warn and prepare people for what they would face in the future.  As Paul headed toward Jerusalem, he called for the Ephesian elders to come to him so he could say goodbye in person.  This farewell was an important time for Paul to let the elders know what he was about to face — and that he was okay with it.  It was also a time to warn them of things that they would face and help them to be prepared to handle the difficult times.  When we are growing in the Act of LIFE, we need to be deliberate about our Farewells for both our benefit and the benefit of those around us.
  • Embrace: At the very heart of Paul’s Act of LIFE was this act of Embrace.  I find it interesting that after Paul warns the Ephesian elders of the terrible things that are to come, Acts 20 ends with the statement that what grieved them the most was Paul saying they would never see him again.  Even as Paul would travel from place to place, his hearts desire was to embrace people with the love he had found through Jesus.  Even when he would write very pointed and corrective letters to the churches, he made it clear that his love for them was not diminished.  I’m not too sure we get that concept too often in today’s church culture.  Churches split and divide, people are excluded and leave a church fellowship, and “church hopping” runs rampant many times because we’ve not learned the act of Embrace even in times of difficulty and disagreement.  While that activity is harmful to the church, the greater problem is that it makes us very ineffective in reaching the unchurched.  We will never learn to truly embrace those who are completely outside of a relationship with Jesus if we can’t learn to embrace those who are fellow believers.  Embracing someone, whether within the church family or outside of it, doesn’t mean that we agree with or accept everything they do or say — it simply means we love them with the love Jesus has called us to have.  The Act of LIFE calls us to learn to embrace one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and to embrace the hurting and lost with the love of Christ.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of LIFE?  Do you daily recognize and accept the call for every aspect of your Living to be done for Jesus?  Are you willingly involved in receiving and giving Instruction in God’s Word?  Do you make your Farewells meaningful in preparing people for what is to come?  Are you able to Embrace people who need to feel the love of Jesus even when it calls them to go and sin no more?  I pray that your response to the Act of LIFE will boldly show the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

The Act of CORRECT (Acts 19)

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 
2 Timothy 3:16-17

It is a joy to preach through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

As we arrive in Acts 19 in our sermon series we find Paul arriving at Ephesus and evidently noticing a need to correct some incomplete teaching.  Because we don’t have a full time-line of the events, it seems to be an interesting approach as Acts 19 opens with Paul finding some believers and the conversation that Luke finds worth writing down revolves around a simple question, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”.  I’m guessing that I’m not alone, but I’ve never even thought of asking that question of a group of believers as I travel and meet new people!  I believe there was either something about the fruit of their life, or perhaps knowledge of the incomplete teaching of Apollos, that led Paul to suspect that they had not been immersed into Jesus Christ.  And so, Paul takes on this Act of CORRECT in order to bring some believers into a greater understanding of their belief in Jesus.  We’re typically not good at the act of correct because we miss some important elements — and because they are missing the outcome is often worse than the beginning.  Instead of letting our past failures keep us from the good work of correction, let’s look at some lessons we can learn from the example of Paul’s as we consider the need to be skilled in the Act of CORRECT.

  • Concern:  At the very heart of being effective in our attempts to correct is a need to have genuine concern!  Too often, our attempts to correct are simply born out of a desire for everyone to agree with our opinion.  Paul’s act of correction was designed to express his concern that the believers were not fully informed of, therefore not fully obedient to, the commands and promises of Jesus.  When we approach the act of correct out of genuine concern for others, we always begin by examining and allowing God to purify our motives.  Real concern will usually soften our approach to correcting honest mistakes and simple oversights.  Sometimes our attitude in the act of correct makes our attempts appear to be more of an act of condemn.  Correction is always more effective when it is obvious the one doing the correcting has great, and real, concern for the one being corrected.  When God calls you to grow in the Act of CORRECT, recognize that God’s desire is that your interaction with people would be done from an attitude of Concern.
  • Obedience:  Also at the very heart of the Act of CORRECT is an unwavering act of Obedience!  Correction by its nature is designed to bring someone, or something, into line with an existing standard.  For the act of correct to work within a church family, it must always center around an obedience to God’s Word and a desire for the family to be brought up to the standards set by God.  After hearing that the believers had not received the Holy Spirit, had not even  heard of the Holy Spirit, Paul’s next question is interesting — “Then what baptism did you receive?”.  There was an evident assumption because they had believed in Jesus that they had been baptized!  Their intent was to respond to Jesus in obedience but they had only heard of John’s baptism of repentance.  Paul’s act of correct calls them to a more accurate obedience to which they responded by being immersed in the name of Jesus Christ.  Too often, we forget that it really is all about obeying Jesus and we make our attempts to correct people all about getting them to obey us!   For our Act of CORRECT to be effective, we must always center the need to correct around a full Obedience to the Word of God.
  • Repentance: The act of correct also calls for repentance — not only in the life of the one being corrected, but also in the life of the one correcting!  Because we associate repentance so closely with a turn from evil, we often miss that it really is all about a change of direction or a change of mind in the way we think.  The act of correct is simply calling on people to have a change of mind or direction in the way they respond to Jesus.  A similar change of mind is often needed in the “corrector” so that the correcting is really being done out of concern and obedience to God.  Sometimes we do the right things with the wrong motives and God needs to apply the act of correct to us in order to bring about repentance.  In Acts 19 some Jews were evidently known for driving out evil spirits and when they saw the effectiveness of the name of Jesus in doing so, they thought they would join the bandwagon.  Unfortunately for them, an evil spirit could see them as pretenders and instead of coming out of the man it possessed it attacked and beat seven of the Jews at once.  It was this revealing by God of the imposters that brought many believers into the open with their acts of repentance and confession.  God uses many things to get our attention with the desire that we would recognize anything false within us and turn to Him in repentance.  When we are growing in the Act of CORRECT, we also grow in the act of Repentance as we change our way and our mind to be more like Jesus and call others to do the same.
  • Rejection: We like it when the act of CORRECT brings about repentance in people — even in us!  Unfortunately, there are times when the response is one of Rejection rather than repentance.  While it is not nearly as pleasant to talk about, it is important to understand that even when correcting is done out of genuine concern and complete obedience to God’s Word, the will of mankind still has the option to reject the correction.  Throughout the book of Acts we see the Apostles and early Christians preaching, teaching, and correcting yet not everyone who hears responds in a positive way.  Most of the time it seems like the magnitude of the acts of acceptance and genuine repentance is met with a corresponding and magnified force of rejection.  I include this point because we must realize the rejection is not really of us, but of the one who sends us.  Fortunately, the rejection of our work of correction is not always the end of the story.  We must continue on, trusting that God will continue to work with the seeds we are planting.  The Act of CORRECT lived out in our life not only finds acceptance at times, but will often find strong Rejection that we must not take personally.
  • Excuses:  Sometimes instead of outright rejection, the act of CORRECT is met with Excuses.  While there were many who repented of the evil they had clung to, there was another group in Ephesus that made excuses for why they couldn’t accept correction.  If you look at them in Acts 19, you will probably notice they are actually quite common excuses we use to hold on to things we shouldn’t — “It will cost us time, money, and/or business.” . . .  “It disrupts our normal routine of life.” . . .  “What about our reputation?” . . . “That’s not the way we do things here.”.  Do any of those sound familiar?  It has been said that an excuse is just the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie!  We want our excuses to sound right, but really we know they’re not.  When God calls us to be involved in someone’s life through the act of correct, we must be willing to put aside our excuses and be obedient.  When we are on the other side and God is using someone to correct us, it is imperative that we knock the lie out of the excuses  we use and accept the correction God wishes to bring.  To honor God in the Act of CORRECT, we must call out, and be done with, Excuses wherever they are found.
  • Change:  At the heart of the Act of CORRECT is a call to change!  We must never forget that God’s desire for all of us is that we are changed — transformed into the image of Jesus Christ through the power of His blood and the help of His Spirit.  Very few of us like change.  We resist the act of correct because we don’t want to admit we’re wrong, but also because we don’t want to move out of our comfort zones.  Before we try to correct the actions or attitudes of someone, we must thoroughly examine if the desired correction will bring about change that results in a more Christ-like person or if the correction is designed to make a more “me-like” person.  Jesus says that unless we change and become like little children we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  I’m pretty sure that means we all need to take the idea of change seriously.  It is within this act of Change that it is important to apply the teachings of Jesus and fully remove the plank from our own eye before we try to remove the speck from our brother’s eye.  For God to use us in the Act of CORRECT we must allow Him to always be involved in the Change that must take place.
  • Truth: Another vital element to the Act of CORRECT is the act of Truth!  It is the act of truth that has the power to dispel excuses and overcome rejection.  When we hold fast to the Word of God as being truth and use it as the sole basis for the act of correct, we are able to set aside the pettiness, favoritism, and partiality that far too often creep into our attempts to correct others.  It is when we value truth that we are willing to accept correction in our own life.  As one who was headed in a very wrong direction when confronted with the truth of Jesus, Paul would speak and write boldly about the need for the truth of Jesus to be foundational in life.  In talking with people who claimed to be following God yet were in great need of correction, Jesus stated, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  As we are involved in correcting and being corrected, we must never forget that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!  When we spend the time needed to fully engage in the act of CORRECT, we must do so while standing on the foundation of Truth.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of CORRECT?  Do you fully approach people with a genuine Concern?  Are your efforts and motives completely in Obedience to God?  Do you keep true Repentance in mind as a desired outcome?  Do you recognize your role as a servant and ambassador of Jesus so that you’re better prepared should people Reject Him?  Do you constantly put aside Excuses and pray that God will help you to see through them?  Are you one who seeks Godly Change in your life, as well as in the lives of others?  Will you be committed to God’s Truth being the foundation for all correction?  I pray that the act of CORRECT expressed through your life will boldly show the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

The Act of MOVE (Acts 18)

It is a joy to preach through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

As we arrive in Acts 18 in our sermon series we find Paul on the move . . . still!  Throughout his life we find Paul moving from place to place . . . sometimes voluntarily, sometimes unwillingly, and sometimes by force.  As Christians, we often find ourself in the midst of the Act of MOVE and could use some guidance from Paul’s example as we consider how to respond and what we should learn.  This isn’t just a physical move.  Because we are growing in Christ, or at least ought to be, we are constantly involved in this act of move due to that growth.  Let’s look at some of these lessons of the Act of MOVE as we consider Acts 18.

  • Meeting:  Acts 18 opens with Paul on the move from Athens to Corinth and verse two is easy to overlook and completely miss the significance of what happens — Paul met a Jew named Aquila along with his wife, Priscilla.  We read later in the chapter some of the significance of this meeting and how this helps to prepare Priscilla and Aquila to teach Apollos the way of the Lord more accurately.  This is not an isolated occurence.  Everywhere that Paul goes, we read about people that he meets and the influence God has on them through the meeting.  The same thing happens in your life and mine.  As we move about life, we meet people.  The question we ought to consider, and rarely do, is “Why?”.  If we’re paying attention, these meetings that take place can benefit the person we meet, can benefit us, can benefit onlookers to the meeting, or more often be useful for the kingdom in all of these areas.  When we are listening to God throughout the Act of MOVE in our life, the Meetings that God arranges for us take on greater significance as we allow Him to work through them. 
  • Opposition:  I do need to warn you, though; the Act of MOVE brings about more than its share of Opposition.  The act of move means that we are growing and changing.  If you haven’t noticed, very few people are really that fond of change.  Paul was constantly using the meetings that God arranged in his life to talk about the good news of Jesus.  When applied correctly and fully, the good news of Jesus changes people!  Paul constantly face opposition because of the changes that would take place among people who would realize a need to reject an old way of life that they had died to and embrace a new life that they’ve found in Jesus.  Jesus made it pretty plain that if the people who embrace the ways of the world opposed Him, you can be confident that they will oppose you as a disciple of Jesus.  A word of caution:  God also says that He opposes the proud, so when you face opposition for which the source is unclear it is always a good idea to spend time with God in examining any attitudes and actions you may need to change.  Learning to accept and grow through Opposition is a valuable lesson as we grow in the Act of MOVE.
  • Verification: One of the things that people seem to hate the most about the changes and opposition that takes place in the Act of MOVE is the uncertainty.  That is why the act of Verification is such an important part of our embracing the act of move fully.  I can’t help but think that Paul had times of questions, and even doubts, that were intensified by opposition.  I think that is why God shows up in a vision to Paul and verifies that he is doing the right thing and needs to continue speaking about Jesus.  In this chapter, the verification is not only about doing the right thing but also about Paul’s safety.  It is important to note that if you look at the life of Paul, the verification from God isn’t always about safety but it is always about God’s presence being with him.  It is in our times of doubt and discouragement that we need to listen intently to God through His Word and His Spirit as He verifies that we indeed are His child . . . and we’re not alone!  He may use our time with Him to verify that we are at the right place or verify that it is time to move.  Our time with God should be a verification that God is indeed with us in good times and in bad circumstances, as well as everything in between.   When we are growing in the Act of MOVE, our deliberate time with God provides Verification that we are where we ought to be and that God is with us.
  • Encouragement: Throughout the Act of MOVE, we have opportunity after opportunity to be an Encouragement to people from all walks of life and backgrounds.  As Paul moves from place to place, he is not only continually reasoning with people about their need for Jesus, he is encouraging the new believers to remain faithful in leading, speaking, and teaching about the faith which is theirs.  Wherever Paul went he would equip people to be ready for when he would move on and they would be on their own.  His letters are full of encouragement for individuals and bodies of believers that he had been instrumental in establishing.  As he moved to different locations, his role as encourager remained.  You don’t have to look far, many times all it takes is a mirror, to see someone who is discouraged and in need of encouragement.  One of the greatest tools of encouragement is a belief that God can completely transform a life that is surrendered to Him.  You know the work God has done, is doing, and will do in your life; do you believe he can and will do that work in the lives of others?  Do they know you believe that?  When we are deliberate about our attitude during the Act of MOVE, we give Encouragement to people that they are able to escape from the power of sin and death in life and in eternity.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of MOVE?  Do you pay attention to the Meetings God arranges for you?  Are you aware that Opposition to the good news of Jesus is to be expected so that when it comes you are not caught off guard?  Do you faithfully spend time with God, allowing Him through His Word and His Spirit to provide Verification that you are in the right place doing the right thing?  Are you using your life to provide Encouragement to others on a regular basis?  I pray that your response to the Act of MOVE in your life will boldly show the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

The Act of REASON (Acts 17)

It is a joy to preach through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

As we arrive in Acts 17 in our sermon series we find Paul doing typical Paul stuff — talking about Jesus until people run him out of town.  As he would go from region to region and city to city, even into the heart of Athens, Paul’s practice of teaching about Jesus seems to center on this Act of REASON!  Let’s look at some lessons we can learn from the example of Paul’s practice of reasoning with the people he would meet.

  • Respect:  We live in a time when it appears that people really believe the loudest voice wins every discussion.  I’ve seen people treated very poorly because others were certain everyone should agree with them if they just talked loud enough, forcefully enough, and long enough.  Unfortunately, there are times when our attempts to share about our faith come across that way.  Peter tells us that we do need to be ready to give an answer for the hope we have — but we must do so with gentleness and respect.  When Paul would reason with people about the truth of Jesus he did so with respect.  He kept at it as long as he could, teaching in both the synagogues and marketplaces as people would listen.  When he arrives in Athens, he finds a way to encourage them for their efforts while pointing out what was missing in their efforts to worship.  When God calls you to grow in the Act of REASON, recognize that God’s desire is that your reasoning with people would be done with the act of Respect.
  • Examine:  How often have you heard some version of the statement, “My God isn’t like that or wouldn’t do that.”?  One of the difficulties we have in fully engaging in this “act of reason” as we share about Jesus is that many have exchanged “giving reason for the hope that is within them” for a watered down version of “what do you think is reasonable”!  If we are going to be effective in reasoning with people in a meaningful way, we must take seriously the background work — the act of Examine.  Instead of accepting, and teaching, that which sounds reasonable, what does God’s Word say?  The Bereans are described as being of “more noble character” not only because they accepted the message but because they examined scripture to see if what Paul was teaching was true.  I believe our Christian message is often missing its power because we have accepted, and teach, that which sounds reasonable instead of examining the scriptures to see if it is really truth.  We preach, teach, and live an American gospel and not necessarily a Jesus gospel.  One example:  we have come to believe as an American society that we have certain rights from God that are an integral part of who we are as people — we’ve been endowed by our creator with the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  I suppose if you examine scripture for God’s definition of each of those terms you could make an argument for the validity of those “inalienable rights” but that’s not the way we use it.  It sounds reasonable, and even right, but it doesn’t take a very lengthy examination of scripture to see that if this “reasonable belief” is true then the apostles, the early church, and even Jesus himself missed out on even the basic rights God has promised everyone.  Anyhow, that is another sermon for another time. 🙂  The point is, we need to be diligent in examining scripture and allowing it alone to be the basis of our “reasoning” with people.   Learning to Examine scripture and test every teaching is a vital part of an effective Act of REASON.
  • Accept: Have you ever had a “discussion” with someone that went nowhere because the outcome had been determined ahead of time?  The act of REASON is ineffective at best when one party refuses to accept that the other has value of any kind.  We struggle with the act of accept because there are things people do that are completely unacceptable.  Paul writes in Romans 15:7, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”  A critical question out of this verse ought to be, “How has Christ accepted me?”.  Can I tell him, “It’s my life!  I can do what I want!  If you really accept me, you would understand that!”?  Of course not!  But many believe that is what accepting them ought to look like.  A better comparison is like an “as-is” sale.  I love auctions and typically at an auction things are sold “as-is” because they are used and the seller cannot, or doesn’t want to, verify an item’s condition.  There are times I will see something and it is obvious it needs work.  With some TLC, some repairs, and some changes it can be a very useful item but not so much “as-is”.  My purchase of it — my acceptance of it — isn’t based so much on its current condition, but on the potential value I see it having when it has been restored.  If I don’t accept it as having value beyond its current condition, rarely will I give it a second look.  Christ accepted you and I as having great value beyond the current condition He found us in.  When we see that same value in all people, we learn to accept them at a level that allows us to really engage in the act of reason with them.    When we are growing in the Act of REASON, we begin to Accept people because of the value all people have when they are restored through Christ.
  • Surrender: Do you ever find yourself at places you would just as soon not be and wonder how you got there and how are you ever going to get out of there?  Many times it is hard to surrender our will and desires to be in one place so that the act of REASON can be effective in our current location that we may not have chosen.  When it comes to sharing the reason you have for the hope that is within you, is God in charge of when and where you do that or do you decide when and where it’s appropriate?  Even when the timing of Paul’s movement from city to city seems to be dictated by angry mobs and not by his choice, he surrenders his will to God’s and goes about reasoning with the people wherever he, and they, happen to be.  God was in charge so it didn’t matter if it was the local “preaching/teaching” building, the marketplace, or the riverfront, Paul was going to reason with people about their need for Jesus.  There is also a surrender of results seen in Paul’s efforts to reason with the people.  We would like a storybook ending to all of Paul’s missionary efforts —  the people heard, they understood the reasoning Paul presented regarding the truth of Jesus, they all accepted the message, everyone repented of their sin, all were immersed into Jesus Christ, and everyone lived happily ever after! 🙂  But that is not the way it went for Paul and it is not the way it goes for us.  We need to learn, as Paul did, to do our part and trust God for the increase.  The Act of REASON lived in our life requires that we fully engage in the act of Surrender to God’s will in everything.
  • Observe:  Have you ever stuck you foot in your mouth?  Of course!  We’ve all been there — saying something that once it is out and we look around and hear it in context of where we are, it was rather inappropriate at best.  Without the element of observation, it is easy to do that even within the Act of REASON.  The act of observe works closely with the previous points.  A good practice is to look around, pay attention, and think before you say anything.  Observe a person, a family, a city, and the context so that the starting point for sharing the reason for the hope that you have makes sense with the listener.  Acts 17 gives us a great lesson in observation and then what to do with what we observe.  It was through careful observation that Paul was able to see beyond the surface elements of the city of Athens and into the heart of what was happening.  Paul could see that this was a people who longed to worship and were very religious in that pursuit — they just had no knowledge of the only true and living God.  When you take the time to observe people, pray that God would help you see beyond the surface actions and into what deep desires those actions are coming from.  It is when you begin to connect the true and holy qualities of God with how they meet the very desires a person is trying to fulfill through everything else that the act of reason begins to take hold.  To meet a person where they are at with the Act of REASON requires that you are serious in your practice of the act of Observe.
  • Notice: This is tied very closely to the act of Observe but often takes it to a finer level.  It is one thing to observe people and surroundings, it is another to notice the importance of what you see!  Paul observed many objects of worship, even one to an “unknown god”, as he walked about Athens.  What he noticed was a deep desire to worship and a longing for a God that would make Himself known to them.  Many times when we do observe people, we are so put off by what we see that we fail to notice that which we don’t see.  We condemn the pagan practices of pagans while failing to notice how those practices and desires can be key in our attempts to reason with them about the good news of Jesus.  (As a side note, we shouldn’t be all that surprised when pagans act like pagans.  It is when Christians act like pagans that we have the real problem.)  When God gives you opportunity to reason with people who are yet to be in relationship with Him through His Son, pray that God would help you to notice the real desire or need that exists under the sin that might be more obvious than the need.  By showing how God can fill that desire or need you are able to present hope because you took the time to notice.  When we spend the time needed to fully engage in the act of Notice, we often find a foundation to build on with the Act of REASON.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of REASON?  Do you fully and genuinely treat all people with Respect?  Do you spend the time needed to Examine scripture to be sure the answers you give others are accurate according to what God says?  Are you able to Accept all people as having great value in the eyes of God and see their potential as restored people?  Do you Surrender daily your will, location, and results to God?  Are you willing to slow down and Observe people and surroundings to have a more complete picture of who they are?  Will you pray for God’s help to Notice the importance of what you observe?  I pray that the act of REASON expressed through your life will boldly show the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!