Call Of God

Acts 13:2
Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

This is one of the most important events in history. It marks the beginning of the missionary campaign to the church in Antioch. The results of this event brought the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire, and changed the face of Western Civilization. History would forever be changed as a result of these two men responding to the call of God. A few things strike me about God’s call.

First, it did not seem, at the outset, to be something grand. We read that God spoke; probably through one of the men with the gift of prophecy. He was to tell Barnabas and Saul to do what the Lord told them to do. That is far from a life altering experience. No mention is made of the room shaking, or lights coming from heaven. It may have happened much like this . . . while they were praying, one of the guys might have said, “I think the Lord is telling Barnabas and Saul to do what He already told them to do.” It was a message reaffirming what Barnabas and Saul had already sensed; what God wanted for them. So the saints of Antioch laid hands on them and sent them away. It would not be until they walked in faith-filled obedience to His call, that they would realize what God had in store for them.

I am also struck by where God called them. Again, we read that before this prophecy was given, Barnabas and Saul had already sensed a desire, or call of God to go . When it was confirmed, they packed their bags, and headed off to Cyprus. Cyprus is an island that sat out in the Mediterranean Sea and was the home town of Barnabas. They were called to share Christ with the people Barnabas grew up with. I think it is natural that as we grow in Christ, we develop a desire to see our friends and loved ones come to Christ; and that is exactly where God called them.

Finally, notice how they received the call of God. We read they “ministered to the Lord and fasted.” Ministering to the Lord would include worshipful prayer, and fasting (denying of the flesh’s desires). They heard from God when they got their eyes on Him and sought Him. The call of God comes when we spend time with Jesus. Too often, we want to determine what God wants for us, and spend all our time asking others. If you want to hear from God, get alone with Him, seek Him until He speaks, then do what He says.

Who knows what God may call you to, and how that may change the world forever.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Joshua 15- Daily Walk
Joshua 16- Not Strong Enough

 

Constant In Prayer

Acts 12:5
“. . . but constant prayer was offered to God . . .”

Things looked very bleak for Peter. Persecution was on the rise throughout Israel. Many of his friends had been forced to flee to other nations for their safety and survival. James, perhaps his closest friend, had been killed by Herod, as a way to increase his political status. Now Peter found himself arrested and awaiting what was sure to be a mock trial and certain execution. He had watched this scene develop once before. We read that these events transpired during the Feast of Unleavened Bread which followed Passover. It was during this time of year Peter had watched his Savior arrested, condemned and crucified. If ever there was a desperate hour in the life of Peter, it was now. Until we read,

“. . .but constant prayer was offered to God . . .”

In the seemingly hopeless situations that life brings, prayer is the answer. The church in Jerusalem had no resources. They had no money for a high-powered attorney to represent Peter, nor did they have any sway with the authorities. Apart from God doing something, the fate of Peter was sealed. Until we read,

“ . . .but constant prayer was offered to God . . .”

No matter how hopeless our situation, there is always hope when we look heavenward. Instead of looking at the power of Rome, or the rage of the religious leaders, the church chose to look up to the Throne of Grace. Seated there, is the One who calmed the sea, healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons and saved the lost. He is also the One who gave His life on Calvary’s cross to save us. They could be absolutely certain that Jesus, not only had the power to rescue Peter, but also the desire. So they prayed and prayed and prayed, until finally, they heard a knock on the door and saw the face of Peter.

I think it is also worth noting, they did not pray alone. While God hears us when we get alone with Him,  something special happens when we call the saints and seek Him together. Jesus spoke of the added power when two or more agree together in prayer. Perhaps you are facing great difficulty. Perhaps, like Peter, you have no resources and there seems to be no way out. Don’t be discouraged. Instead, call to arms your Christian friends, and seek the Lord until you hear the knock on the door and are delivered from your prison.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Joshua 13- Wait There’s More
Joshua 14- Giant Slayer

Legalism

Acts 11:3 
“You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”

There are many churches I would love to visit and observe the work God is doing. The church in Jerusalem was one of those churches. In the early chapters of Acts, we read about this church that began as a work of the Spirit, was birthed in revival, emphasized outreach, focused on discipleship, and even sent out saints to impact the world. We read that they gathered at Solomon’s Porch (an area adjacent to the Temple), to worship, pray, and preach. No building in the city was large enough to house the multitudes who were coming to Christ, so the believers met together in homes throughout the city for prayer, study, fellowship and communion. What a thrilling time it must have been to be a part of that work of God. Sadly, by the end of the book of Acts, the church in Jerusalem had changed. No longer was it the hub for ministry that it once was. Instead, it had become a place filled with internal conflict brought about by legalism. The seed of that is found here.

Imagine the scene. Peter arrives back from his trip. He has had a vision in which God spoke to him. That is exciting!  They should be intrigued and celebrate how amazing God is; that He would interrupt Peter’s sleep and speak to Him. Beyond that, Peter had just led a whole family to Christ. The kingdom of God just got bigger! In addition, this family was not Jewish, they were Gentiles. Their acceptance of Christ was now opening up the entire world to the Gospel message. The church should have been ecstatic; celebrating the fact that the whole world was now their mission field. Instead, what these guys took away from Peter’s story was, “you ate with Gentiles!” That blows my mind! How sad, that this once vibrant church could become so legalistic.

Legalism could be defined as putting restrictions upon us that the Bible does not place on us. Now, it is clear, there are certain restrictions that the Bible does place on us. Those restrictions are the driving force behind many who refuse to come to Christ. John wrote that “. . . light came into the world but men loved darkness more than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). We must understand, the restrictions Scripture places on us are for our best. God is, in fact, trying to keep us from something, and that something is unnecessary suffering.

That being said, the legalist is the one who puts restrictions on us beyond what the Bible teaches. They focus on what we wear, what we eat, the day we worship, the style of music, and the list goes on and on. Once legalism enters a person’s life, or a church body, people no longer measure their Christian life by growth in Christ, but instead, by adherence to the rules. Instead of clinging to Christ and seeking for others to know Him, we become focused on making sure the women are wearing the right clothes and the men eating the correct foods.

It is abiding in Jesus, not adhering to a set of rules, that will transform our lives and attract the world to the Gospel. If we want to see Christ continue to work in us, we must continue to abide in Christ.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Joshua 11-Ganged Up On
Joshua 12- Remember When…

A Town Called Joppa

Acts 10:5
“Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter.”

Joppa was a port city in Israel with a wealth of history. It serves as a powerful illustration of the heart of God for the world at large. Over 700 years before Peter slept on the rooftop of the tanner’s house, another famous character passed through Joppa. His name was Jonah, and he is infamous as Israel’s most reluctant prophet. Most of us are familiar with his story of disobedience. We read, he was commissioned by God to preach a message of mercy to Nineveh, but instead, he traveled to Joppa, boarded a ship, and attempted to run from God. His story is a fascinating one, as God goes to great lengths to win the heart of this wandering servant. One of the key lessons in Jonah is, God loves the world even when His people don’t.

Over 700 years later, we find another servant of God resting quietly in this same port city. While he sleeps, his world is interrupted with a vision form heaven. The vision was simple, but the message profound. He saw a sheet filled with all kinds of animals, which he was commanded to kill and eat. Peter’s initial response was to refuse, for many of the animals were in a category marked as “unclean” by old testament standards. His rebuke was met by a further command, “What I have cleansed do not call common.” While this passage is freeing the believer to eat whatever he wants, the message is much deeper. Peter needed to learn that the Gospel was intended for all people.

As he pondered the meaning of the message, a band of men arrived, inviting him to visit Cornelius, in the city of Caesarea. Peter would soon be faced with a great dilemma, he would stand at the threshold of the house of a gentile and have to decide whether, for the sake of the Gospel, he would put aside his cultural fears and enter a gentile home.

Cornelius and his family were loved by God and needed to hear the message of salvation in Christ. Peter, like Jonah before him, would have to set aside his own personal feelings for the sake of the kingdom of God.

All mankind is loved by God, and needs to hear the message of salvation found in Christ. It is time we set aside anything that keeps us from declaring the message of the cross to a dying world.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Joshua 9- Treaty
Joshua 10- Allies

Here I Am

Acts 9:10
“Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’”

A disciple named Ananias is a somewhat obscure character in the narrative of Acts. We do not know how he first heard about Christ, what his occupation was, or his role in the local church. All we know is, when he was called to service, he rose to the occasion, and became an influential player in the life and ministry of Paul, the Apostle.

We read that Ananias had a vision. A vision is much like a dream, but happens while a person is awake, instead of when they are sleeping. There are many cases in Scripture of God speaking to His people through visions.

We are not told what Ananias was doing when God interrupted and commissioned him. We only know he obeyed. Notice, his obedience was not without trepidation. In fact, we might even say, he was a little reluctant to obey; and it is not difficult to understand why. Saul of Tarsus was the greatest human threat the early church had ever faced. He had authority to arrest and imprison Christians; and like a wild animal, was threatening them with death.

We read in Acts 8 that he was the driving force behind the death of Stephen. God was calling Ananias right into Saul’s line of fire. It does not surprise me that he would say,“Lord, I have heard from many about this man, . . .” Acts 9:13

I know it is my desire to hear from the Lord. I want my life to count for the kingdom, and to have a positive impact upon the lives of others. I also understand, that sometimes, the Lord asks us to do hard things. Sometimes, the call of God will take me outside my comfort zone and ask me to do what will make me very uncomfortable, and may even put me at some level of risk.

I think it is important to follow the example of Ananias, whose willingness to obey the Lord resulted in helping in the growth of one of Christianity’s greatest heroes. Let’s all live by the motto of, “Here I am Lord.”

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Joshua 7- Banned
Joshua 8- A Little Help

Unsung Hero

Acts 8:5

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.”

 

Philip was one of the men selected to serve tables at the church in Jerusalem. Now we find him heading out to Samaria as a missionary and winning many souls to the Kingdom. His ministry became so effective, it drew the attention of the apostles, who came to aid him in discipling those who had been saved. As quickly as he arrived in Samaria, Philip leaves.  God calls him away from the masses, to reach an individual with the message of salvation through faith in Christ. After a muddy baptism in the desert, he headed out once again, this time making his way to Caesarea, where he settled down and raised a family of followers of Jesus.

 

Philip’s story is a fascinating one, filled with application for our daily lives. One of the most important lessons he teaches us is, in God’s economy, all service is the same. When Philip was serving tables, raising children, or leading revivals, he was simply doing what God had called him to do. Sometimes, I think we lose sight of how God wants to use us today, by being overly consumed with what the future holds. Spending all my time thinking about how God wants to use me tomorrow, will cause me to miss the opportunities He has placed in front of me today.

 

Keep your eyes open! Perhaps, today, God may lead you right into an opportunity to share Christ with someone like the Ethiopian, a man who God had prepared in every way for Philip’s arrival.

 

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Joshua 5- Victory
Joshua 6- Walls

Jesus Standing

Acts 7:56
“Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

Stephen’s story is a common one with an uncommon ending. All who have attempted to share the love of Christ with others have experienced the crowd turn on us. The very ones we have prayed for, and stepped out in faith to share with, have accused us of wrong doing, and lashed out against us. Unfortunately for Stephen, these men lashed out not only with words, but also with stones. Stephen was taken outside the city, as if he were a false prophet, and stoned to death. A martyr could be defined as one who lives for Christ, even if it means dying for Christ. Stephen is not the only martyr the church has ever seen, but he was the first.

As Stephen is facing his execution, he looks up, and for a moment the veil separating the eternal from the temporal is removed, and he is able to see the Throne of Grace. Something fascinating happens; Jesus, who sat down at the right hand of God after his ascension, is standing. We know that the work of salvation was completed on the cross, so He is standing for another purpose. That purpose was to honor the one who was honoring Him; to welcome Stephen into glory.

From earth’s perspective, Stephen failed. He attempted to share Christ with a group of people while only making them angry, and losing his life. From Heaven’s perspective, he receives the highest honor, as Jesus stands to welcome him home. It is my personal desire, that each of us will receive that welcome when we step into glory. That we, like Stephen, will choose to live, not for acceptance in this age, but in the one to come. You never know whose life you may impact. It was after Stephen’s death that Paul is first mentioned. It seems that this young man’s bold stand for Christ was one of the influencing events in winning Paul to Christ.

Let’s seek to live for Christ today, keeping our eyes on the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Joshua 3- Entering In
Joshua 4- Remember