Journey through Acts – Chapter 16:16-28

Last week we began chapter 16 and we were introduced to Paul’s young protégé Timothy. Paul, Silas and Timothy had begun Paul’s second missionary journey and while traveling the Lord directed them not to enter into two different regions. Rather, they were told to go to Macedonia instead. You may have been amazed once you realized that God gave such clear and concise instructions to these men. You might also have found yourself wishing that you too were on the receiving end of such guidance from the Lord. Which led to our discussion of the truth that God indeed does wish to direct our lives in such a manner. Unfortunately however, the problem lies with us, because we aren’t tuned in to hear His voice. So we looked at the question how do we hear the voice of God?

We first must start with the belief that God will speak to each of us personally. If we do not believe it’s possible in the first place we will never hear His voice. Thus, the question is, do you believe it’s possible? Church family, not only is it possible, but God longs to converse with us – to communicate with us – to hold intimate conversation with us. So, if you do not currently believe He will speak directly and specifically to you, ask Him to reveal this truth to you – to open your eyes. Or perhaps it would be better suited for me to say – to open your ears!

So first, it begins with the belief. Next we need to understand that yes, absolutely, God’s Word is often the primary mode He uses to communicate with us. However, God can and does use anything – He can use any circumstance, any situation, and any person to guide and direct us. Remember, He used a burning bush with Moses and a donkey with Balaam.

And yes again, He absolutely speaks through His Word and His Word is the sieve to run your thoughts through when you believe He has spoken to you. If it doesn’t line up with His Word, then you know it did not come from God. Rather, it’s one of your own thoughts, perhaps it’s from cultural influence, or it could even be from Satan. And yes, brothers and sisters, I’m sorry, but Satan’s primary mode of attack is often in our thoughts.

Next, we need to slow down – to sit at His feet just as Mary did when Jesus was a guest in Martha’s home. We simply have to make time for our relationship with Jesus, just as we have to make time for our other close, intimate relationships. Making use of spiritual disciplines helps us in the process of building a deeper and more intimate relationship with the Lord.

Keep in mind, just as every serious athlete must train and train hard if he wants to win, every Christian must build their faith in order to grow strong through the practice of spiritual disciplines. We know that being a couch potato is not going to advance one’s athletic abilities. Neither will only going to church for an hour on Sunday morning advance our walk with Jesus. The very best athletes are intensely disciplined. And the same holds true for the most faithful Christians! Just as a couch potato does not make an athlete, being undisciplined in our Christian walk will not make a disciple.

So what do I mean by spiritual disciplines? The Bible does not give a set list. But here are several commonly recognized spiritual disciplines among Christians around the globe: bible study, prayer, fasting, confession, worship, fellowship, rest, Sabbath, celebration, service, and generosity. Remember nobody simply drifts into being disciplined. It takes intention, it takes focus. Just as the undisciplined body becomes weak, the undisciplined spirit becomes weak.

Which is why Paul coaches his young protégé Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7-8, “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” This verse clearly defines the purpose of practicing spiritual disciplines – they provide training for godliness. And I’d like to add that they help us to hear the quiet, gentle whisper of our Lord – which deepens our level of intimacy with Him – our relationship with Him.

Finally, it’s imperative that when we pray, we don’t do all the talking! We need to give the Lord time to respond. We need to be still and listen. But if you are like me, you might find yourself doing most of the talking – if not all of it! Often, when we do take a few minutes here and there to pray, we have specific requests that we lift up to Him. And truthfully, it usually doesn’t have anything to do with His will and His desire, rather it’s our own. It’s what we want. But we should be praying not my will, but Thy will be done, just as Christ did in the garden of Gethsemane. Remember church family, Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” If we love the Lord, we need to listen to His voice.

Next in this chapter we are introduced to Lydia in Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district in eastern Macedonia. There were many retired legionnaires from the Roman army settled there but few Jews. Which is why there was no synagogue, as a synagogue required at least ten Jewish males. If you recall as we’ve been learning about Paul’s travels the synagogue was usually the very first place he would go upon entering a new city.

However, in this case, with no synagogue, the few Jews who were in Philippi met along the banks of the Gangites River. It was customary for synagogues and such places of prayer to be located outdoors near running water in order to facilitate ritual washings.

Paul finds himself talking with a group of women upon arrival at the river bank. We are told that Lydia, was a Gentile who believed in the one true God and followed the moral teachings of scripture – a God fearer. Like Cornelius, she had not become a full convert to Judaism. The fact that Luke names Lydia in the text is significant and suggests that she was a woman who became prominent in the church at Philippi.

Lydia was a wealthy businesswoman who was a dealer in purple cloth. She sold luxury textiles dyed purple (remember purple is the color of royalty and only the rich could afford these textiles). Lydia’s wealth was indicated by the fact that she seemed to have been the owner and mistress of her own home. After her and her household chose belief in Jesus Christ and were then baptized in the faith she invited the missionaries to stay with her.

In our scripture reading this morning we hear once again that Paul along with Silas had gotten into trouble. Except this time it had absolutely nothing to do with the gospel they were proclaiming along with Timothy and Luke the physician, who was also present with them at this time. Paul had simply gotten tired of hearing the fortune telling slave girl shout continually behind them over several days.

Of course, his casting out the spirit then interfered with her master’s ability to make money off of her fortune telling. So Paul and Silas, the two Jews in the group, were arrested, stripped and beaten with rods, and placed in stocks in the jail. Don’t fail to notice that Timothy who was only half Jewish and Luke the Gentile remained free – only the two Jews were punished, they were singled out, although the four of them were all traveling together.

Keep in mind when the Jews initiated a flogging they would stop at 39 strikes. But not so the Romans – they went on as long as they saw fit. A strong Roman soldier, a man who had been trained in how to most intensely inflict pain, delivered the whipping. Thus, victims of Roman floggings and beatings often did not survive. To be beaten with rods translates as a Greek verb meaning to hit with long, stiff sticks. The blows were dealt on the back, legs and side.

In case you are wondering what stocks are they are made of two boards joined with iron clamps, leaving holes just big enough for the ankles. The prisoner’s legs were placed across the lower board, and then the upper board was closed over them. Sometimes both wrists and ankles were placed in stocks. Paul and Silas who had committed no crime were put in stocks designed for holding the most dangerous prisoners in absolute security.

The pain they must have been in – I can’t even begin to imagine, although I have experienced some significant pain in my life. However, I’m sure it didn’t come close to the pain these two men were feeling after that beating. But unlike them, I had the benefit of taking pain medication. The level of their pain must have been excruciating. Acute pain such as what they experienced triggers the fight or flight response in the sympathetic nervous system. Your heartbeat accelerates as does your breathing. You simply can’t focus on anything else but the pain.

Yet, despite this horrific situation, Paul and Silas somehow or another managed to praise God. They prayed aloud – they sang songs while the others in the prison listened! How on earth did they do it? How were they able to utter anything beyond a scream, shout, cry or moan?? I do not know. Yet, that was their response. Obviously, they had managed to “take heart.” Remember a couple of weeks ago in chapter 14 when we read about Paul being stoned and we looked at what it meant to take heart. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

To take heart means – to exercise bold and confident courage. We need to take heart even when our world seems as if it’s falling apart. When we feel as if we have a huge weight crushing our chest. When we feel like we simply cannot breathe. That’s when we need to take His hand and hold on tightly. That’s when we need to trust Him with every fiber of our being. Certainly we see Paul and Silas taking heart.

They had to have maintained a laser sharp focus on Christ going through this. They had to have been completely and totally surrendered to Him in order to endure and their trust in Him must have been through the roof. Otherwise, how could they not only withstand this immense suffering once again but overcome it? Of course, what it really all boils down to is God’s grace, His amazing grace!! They had tapped into it. His Spirit resided within them and they relied on His power not their own.And throughout all of this – what an amazing witness. An earthquake occurs and they are released from the stocks and the prison cell but they do not leave. The jailor was going to kill himself thinking they would escape until Paul intervened and told him not to. Then the jailor is so impressed with their behavior that he takes them to his home, dresses their wounds and he and his family become believers. That’s how it’s done, one person at a time, one family at a time. It’s important that we remember, people are watching us. It’s not just our verbal testimony but our actions too that lead others to Christ. What an enormous blessing it is to walk with our Lord and lead others to Him. 
Let us pray…….Holy and gracious God we praise you! We love you! We seek to bring glory to your great name. Forgive us of our sins. Help us to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. Help us to lead others to your Son. We pray for our country, we ask you would help us reunite. We pray for President Trump and President elect Joe Biden — may they seek you out and follow your will. Protect our country Lord and help us return to you. And now let us pray the words our Lord and Savior Jesus taught us……
Remember Jesus loves you and so do I! EmojiEmoji
Blessings,

Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts, Chapter 16

Communion Sunday, All Saints Day

Today is All Saints Day and it’s the day that we remember those who have gone before us in the faith. Remember in Hebrews 12 we are told a “great cloud of witnesses” surrounds us encouraging us and cheering us on. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement very much enjoyed and celebrated All Saints Day. He wrote in his journal on this day in 1767 that it was “a festival I truly love.” In 1788 he wrote, “I always find this a comfortable day.” And when you consider the Hebrews 12 scripture, I can see why he would say that. I find it comforting too that there is a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, encouraging us, and cheering us on! Don’t you?? And this includes our loved ones who have gone before us, whether in this past year or 50 years ago. And yes, we lost several of our loved ones this year.

While we may consider some of the truly great saints on this day – such as Peter and Paul, St. Francis and Martin Luther, John and Charles Wesley, of course we are most likely to spend our time remembering those who have personally impacted us. Our grandmother who took us to church every Sunday. Or the pastor who prayed with us when a loved one died. How about the neighbor who used to babysit us with kindness and care? And we thank God for the youth leader who told us Jesus loved us. And we certainly can’t forget our Sunday school teacher who showered us with that love.

Remembering and retelling our personal faith stories grounds us in our history. These memories remind us of God’s wonderful provision for us. How He has taken care of us and loved us through the people He has placed around us. God has indeed provided for us through the generosity and the sacrifices made by the saints who have gone before. Let us praise Him for that this day and always.

Now last week in chapter 15 we learned about the doctrinal dispute that had the potential to split the church right in two. Thus, the Jerusalem Council met to determine the answer to a very important question. Did a Christian need to covert to Judaism prior to becoming a Christian? One group of Pharisees insisted that following the law, including submitting to the rite of circumcision, was necessary for salvation. However, when you consider this question more deeply you realize what is really being asked is whether we come to salvation through faith alone in Jesus Christ or are works also necessary.

After much discussion among the council, Peter pointed out something very important. The Gentile converts had received the Holy Spirit upon their conversion. Which in essence stated that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the Gentile converts was certainly enough. As Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” At the end of chapter 15 we read that Paul and Barnabas split. Barnabas took John Mark and sailed for Cyprus and Paul took Silas and went through Syria and Cilicia.

This week we are only going to start chapter 16 and finish it next week as there’s much to consider. It begins with Paul and Silas going through Derbe to Lystra where they meet the young disciple Timothy, who was probably in his teens at this time. Somehow this young man had developed quite a reputation already as he was very well thought of in both his hometown, and the nearby town of Iconium.

Timothy became Paul’s protégé and one of Paul’s closest companions and became known as Paul’s son in the faith. He would later go on to become the pastor of the church at Ephesus which is where he received the two letters written to him by Paul. 

Timothy’s mother was Jewish but his father was Greek. Because of this, Paul had Timothy circumcised. Now you might be wondering why he would do that when we just heard the decision made by the Jerusalem Council – that there was no need for Gentiles to be circumcised upon becoming Christian. However, keep in mind, Timothy would have been considered a half-breed since his father was Greek. Much like the Samaritans were considered half-breeds when the Jews intermingled with other races. Consequently, Paul thought it would be wise to have Timothy circumcised to alleviate any argument he might hear against Timothy’s lineage and to show respect for Jewish law and identity.  

Timothy is the first second-generation Christian mentioned in the New Testament. His mother Eunice and grandmother Lois had become believers most likely when Paul preached in Lystra during his first missionary journey. And just as our grandparents and parents do, whether for good or bad simply depends on who they are as people, these two women had influenced Timothy in a very position way as they had influenced for the Lord. From what we can gather, it appears that most likely his father never became a Christian.

So, Paul, Silas and Timothy traveled from town to town delivering the decision the Jerusalem Council had decided upon as well as preaching the gospel, supporting and encouraging the believers and consequently, the churches grew. But next, as we heard in the scripture reading this morning, Paul is stopped by the Holy Spirit. Paul and his companions passed through the region of Galatia but were prevented from entering Asia. Then they were prevented from turning north into Bithynia. We are not told how the Holy Spirit relayed the message to them – how He spoke to them. We are told however, that during the night Paul had a vision in which he was told to go to Macedonia to help the people there. So they are stopped twice and told not to enter these two different regions, and then they are given instructions upon where to go.

Now wouldn’t you just love it if the Holy Spirit gave us such explicit instructions?!?! Well church family, what we don’t realize is that He does. We need to understand that the Lord is constantly speaking to us and giving us direction! Sometimes through a loved one, a friend, or a total stranger, sometimes through nature, through dreams, through intuition, through our experiences and circumstances. Heck, remember God used a donkey with Balaam and a burning bush with Moses. He’s God – He can use anything. The problem is we are not usually listening. Did you hear that?? The problem is with us – we are not usually listening…..

I know for a fact, I am most definitely not aware of and/or hearing from the Lord continually all throughout the day. Are you?? Yet the truth of the matter is it’s not that He’s not speaking. He’s constantly offering His wisdom, discernment and guidance. So what is the problem? Why don’t we hear Him and hear Him all day long?? Because we are not listening to Him. Remember Jesus tells us in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me.” He doesn’t say His sheep can or should hear His voice, He emphatically states, my sheep hear my voice. Thus, for His followers the crux of the matter lies in our lacking the ability to hear and/or recognize His voice or our refusal to listen.

Radio and television stations transmit signals twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week; but we only hear them when we turn the TV or the radio on – right? Failure to hear the signal doesn’t mean the station isn’t transmitting. Likewise, God is constantly speaking to His sheep, but few are tuned in and paying attention. And if we are in conversation with Him through prayer, we are typically busy pleading with Him to fix our problems. We don’t take the time to allow Him to respond.

I know that I am really guilty of this. I do all the talking way too much!! What about you?? And you know I just have to wonder, do we really think that we know what is best?? I mean really church family?? How ridiculous is that? Yet, we tell Him exactly what to do, don’t we?? He knows what’s best – we need to trust Him. 

So, what do we need to do and/or do differently in order to hear our Lord’s voice?? Well first we need to stop doing all the talking and allow Him to speak – always keeping in mind that He speaks to us through His Word. Which is the number one way to differentiate if what you are hearing is coming from God, yourself, the culture or Satan. If what you think you hear ever contradicts anything in scripture – then you are definitely not hearing from God. It’s just that simple. Now of course, that means you actually have to be reading scripture in order to know if something is contradicting it, right?!  

But even before that, I think there is something more fundamental – more important. I am not even going to call this a step. Rather, a belief – it’s a belief. Do you believe that God is and will speak personally, to you? I remember a series of books I read in my 30’s called Conversations with God. Now these books would be considered pure poppycock by theologians and rightly so. However, tremendous good came out of my reading them.

We need to remember church family God can work through any circumstance and speak through any person on this planet! Even the most hardened criminal – God can use him to give you or me a message. Now what was of such tremendous benefit when I read those books? I came to the realization that yes indeed, God does speak to me. Me, Cathy, which means He will talk to you as well. You see, if we don’t believe this simple yet profound truth, we most likely will never hear His voice.

I can’t remember anything else at all about these books, but I did take away a vital truth highly necessary for a successful walk with the Lord. God truly talks to each one of us. Ask yourself right now this question – do I believe that the Lord talks specifically to me?? Go ahead, ask yourself……. And if you can’t say a resounding yes, pray that He will make this astounding truth known to you.

Okay to get back to the steps again, we need to slow down. We have become so incredibly busy. Most of us are going non-stop, working from sun-up to oftentimes far beyond sun-down. We are focused on our daily tasks and crossing everything off our to-do list; rather than taking the time to simply sit before the Lord, to sit at His feet just as Mary did.

Remember the story of Martha and Mary the two sisters in the Gospel of Luke? Jesus and his disciples had been traveling and Martha opened her home to them. Hospitality was of great importance during the time of Christ and so Martha began to prepare a meal and busied herself with serving her guests, while Mary simply sat and listened to what Jesus had to say – she was soaking up His words. Martha got frustrated with her sister and asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her. He did just the opposite, however. He responded, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” We simply have to take time each day to be with Jesus – it’s absolutely imperative. All relationships take time….. All! Including and especially our most important relationship of all – our relationship with the Lord!

This is why practicing the spiritual disciplines is so very helpful. Because to practice them, and I’ll name just a few right now – prayer, scripture reading and studying, worship, and serving; it takes time, it takes intention, it takes stillness and it takes solitude. All of which are vitally important in a growing relationship with God. And certainly coming to the Table to partake of the Lord’s Supper is a wonderful spiritual discipline. Holy Communion nourishes us, it brings healing and transformation to us as we are forgiven, we experience fellowship with other Christians as we offer up thanksgiving to our Lord. We pause and reflect, and we remember exactly what He did for us on the night that He was betrayed…….Let us pray:Dear Lord we place before you the elections taking place in our nation this Tuesday and humbly ask you to intervene on behalf of your people. We ask you to disarm evil and silence the voice of deception. We ask you to move hearts and minds, even those who do not know you, to vote according to your will and precepts. We ask you to raise up leaders who seek to honor you as they govern. And we ask you to bring the people of our nation to a place of humility and submission to your Lordship.Please also be with all those who have lost a loved one over the last year, comfort them and fill them with your peace and reassurance. And be with those who are battling covid — bring them health — restore them to wholeness. And now let us pray the words our Lord and Savior taught us……
Remember Jesus loves you and so do I! EmojiEmoji

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts, Chapter 15:35-41

In chapter 14 last week we took a close look at Paul’s first missionary journey which lasted about two years. Barnabas and his cousin John Mark traveled with Paul on this journey, although John Mark left before it was half-way finished. And I might add Paul was not a happy camper about his leaving which we will hear more about this morning.

After John Mark left the group Paul performed a miracle by healing a man who had been lame from birth. Paul and Barnabas became very upset when those who had witnessed the miracle began calling the two of them gods. They called Paul Hermes and Barnabas Zeus. Why were they upset? Because these gods were manmade Gods, not the one, true God, not to mention they were not Gods! Paul and Barnabas refused to allow the pagans to merely add Jesus to their plethora of Roman Gods. They commanded that they turn from their fake gods to the one true God. As Paul and Barnabas were very aware that it was only by and through the power of the one, true God, the Most-High God that the miracle had occurred.

Of course, we’ve heard almost from the beginning of Acts about the strong opposition to the Christian movement and unfortunately that had not changed during the time Paul was preaching the Good News in his first of three missionary journeys. Nor has it even to this day. Satan is still alive and well.

Paul and Barnabas were persistent in their preaching of the Gospel, considering the cost to them to be nothing in comparison with obedience to Christ. If you recall they had narrowly escaped being stoned in Iconium. Now some of the Jews in strong opposition to the truth about Jesus had actually followed Paul from Antioch and Iconium to Lystra where he and Barnabas were currently located.

There they then joined up with people in Lystra who were also hostile towards Paul, and the two groups came together to stone him. He was drug out of the city and left for dead. However, Paul survived as clearly the Lord had other work for him to complete.

Paul’s stoning was proof of the words Jesus said in John 15:20 “If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” So, at the end of the message last week we looked at persecution and what was needed to not only survive, but to thrive when being persecuted. Jesus had told His followers in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The root of the Greek word used to take heart means to exercise bold and confident courage.  If we don’t take heart amid persecution there is a good likelihood, we will become discouraged, and enter a state of total and complete despair.

After Paul and Barnabas arrived back in Antioch in Syria, upon completion of their journey, they were reporting on what God had done in Asia, especially regarding the Gentile churches that had been established and all the Gentiles who had been saved through their belief in Jesus as Lord.

As chapter 15 opens we hear, “Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them (Acts 15:1-2).

These other men, who were most likely Pharisees, insisted to Paul and Barnabas that the Gentiles be circumcised, and that they must make observance of Jewish ritual as a requirement for salvation. Basically, they were saying that everything Paul and Barnabas had done, including establishing several churches among the Gentiles, without bringing them under the Law of Moses, was wrong. Unable to reach an agreement with these legalists, Paul and Barnabas were then sent to Jerusalem where they were welcomed by the church, apostles, and elders.

Obviously, the conversion of Gentiles was raising an urgent question for the early church. When the council met with Paul and Barnabas the central issue was whether Gentile Christians had to be circumcised and keep the law. Clearly, it was very difficult for some Jewish Christians to accept that Gentiles could be brought into the church as equal members without first coming through the Law of Moses. At this point the Jews had moved beyond whether the Gentiles could experience salvation – they agreed that they could. However, did it occur through mere faith, or works too?

Not only was this question urgent, but it was also of immense importance! Why? Because the question goes much deeper. What was really being asked here was, are Christians made right with God by faith alone, or by a combination of faith and obedience of the Law? Is the work of Jesus by itself enough to save the one who trusts in Him, or must we add works, through following the Law, to Jesus’ death in order to be reconciled, to be made right with God?

Now for the Jews, the truest test of following the law was circumcision. And as we’ve seen, one group of Pharisees insisted that following the law, including submitting to the rite of circumcision, was necessary for salvation. However, they may also have been concerned with the rapid growth of the Gentile Christians. How long would it be before they would outnumber them? And perhaps they were also afraid of weakening moral standards among believersif the Gentile Christians did not follow Jewish laws.

After much detailed discussion between Paul, Barnabas and the leaders of the church, Peter stood up and begin to speak. He pointed out something very important. The Gentile converts had received the Holy Spirit upon their conversion. What Peter was basically saying is that the indwelling of the Spirit should be proof enough – there was no need for the Gentiles to convert to Judaism to be saved. Otherwise they would not have received the Holy Spirit!

During this meeting of the Jerusalem Council, Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and the other church leaders, while in agreement that the Old Testament law was very important, determined it was not a prerequisite to salvation. The law cannot save; only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ can a person be saved. The council upheld the conviction expressed by these faithful, and might I add, teachable men. Following the Jewish laws, including being circumcised, was not essential for salvation. As Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

A letter was then written outlining the council’s decision. Paul and Barnabas, as well as two men from Jerusalem, Judas and Silas who were also prophets, were sent with the letter back to Antioch were the dispute originally began. We are told it pleased the apostles, elders, and the whole church to send the letter which was written specifically to the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. It was not addressed to every Gentile congregation. Why to only three churches and why these three? Because it only applied to these three. It was written to these churches because Jews and Gentiles attended them together, thus creating the possibility of tension and conflict within. The letter states the decision of the Jerusalem council is that Gentiles should consider themselves under no obligation to perform the rituals of Judaism – salvation comes by faith alone. Thus, this very important issue was settled once and for all and for all time……

Which brings us to the end of chapter 15 and our passage for the day. We read about yet another sharp disagreement arising this time between Paul and Barnabas. Now despite their time together on Paul’s first missionary journey, immediately prior to this disagreement, their relationship may have become somewhat strained as Barnabas had sided with the legalists in Antioch over the matter we just discussed at great length. Does salvation come through faith alone? How do we know Barnabas disagreed with Paul? Because Paul references it in Galatians chapter two. Despite this, Paul suggests to Barnabas that they return to all the cities where they had planted churches during their first missionary trip, basically to just check in and see how they are doing.

Paul was an evangelist and took the gospel to places where it did not exist. He preached where there were no believers and by the power of the Holy Spirit brought people to faith in Christ. He did the very important work of establishing early Christian communities. Yet, he understood the need to help those communities grow in Christ – to disciple them. It wasn’t enough to just make believers. He needed to continue supporting and encouraging them. Paul was not merely content to plant churches without seeing them carefully nurtured and growing in the faith. As such, this was the reason for his second missionary journey.

When he suggests this second journey to Barnabas, Barnabas was enthusiastically onboard; however, he wanted his cousin John Mark to go with them once again. Remember, John Mark (the apostle Mark who wrote the Gospel of Mark), is the one who skipped out on them during their first missionary journey. If you recall, we’re not sure why John Mark left that first journey. However, whatever the reason, it would appear Paul had lost faith in him.

Both men apparently felt very strongly about the matter as neither one conceded. Rather the contention was so sharp they decided to part ways. Luke doesn’t tell us who was right and who was wrong. But as we know there are always two sides to every story, or maybe I should say three sides to every story, yours, mine, and the truth! But it would appear that these men were not walking in the spirit during this disagreement.

We just heard earlier in the chapter there was much dispute over an important doctrinal matter. We also heard that it was resolved. How? Through teachable spirits and the pursuit of the truth. Listening for the wisdom and discernment of the Holy Spirit was clearly involved. Here however, the contention while still sharp, is of a personal nature, and far less important. And it does not appear that these two men sought out the will of the Father regarding this matter.

So, Paul took Silas and Barnabas took Mark and they split – each going out to different regions to minister. We have no idea how long their relationship was constrained. We do know, however, that the work of reconciliation is of major importance in the life of a Christian. And we do know that they eventually reconcile because Paul would later affectionately mention Barnabas as being worthy of monetary support in his work of proclaiming the gospel in 1st Corinthians 9:6. And in 2 Timothy 4:11 he states, “Luke alone is with me. Take Mark and bring him with you, for he is helpful to me in my ministry.”

This reminds us that as Christians we are commanded to resolve relationship problems with others before we present our ministry to God. And how are we to resolve these problems? Fortunately, God does not leave us in the dark. He gives us explicit instructions. Matthew 18:15-17 states, “If you brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Now we clearly see Satan at work here in both situations. First, he wanted the false doctrine of righteousness by works to succeed. Remember that is the foundation of the Law of Moses – actually living the law. But even if it didn’t succeed, we know Satan wanted a bitter doctrinal war to completely split and sour the church. After all, that is certainly one of his greatest desires – to create division in the body of Christ.

This doctrinal dispute could have potentially split the church if not handled carefully. The legalists in the Jerusalem church preferred a legalistic religion to one based on faith alone. If the legalists had won, the Gentiles would have been required to be circumcised and, in effect, converted to Judaism. This would have confined Christianity to simply being another sect within Judaism. When pausing to consider this, I think it’s important for us to realize that there is something of a “Pharisee” most likely in all of us. We may unwittingly mistake upholding tradition, structure, and legal requirements as a necessary component for following and obeying God.

In the situation between Paul and Barnabas God used the division, as He can always redeem good out of evil. Paul in Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that in all tings God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  However, may this situation serve to remind us that we will all be held accountable for every idle word spoken, for every wrong act perpetrated against another when we stand before Christ face-to-face at the judgment seat.Let us pray…….Gracious and Holy God we praise you for your many blessings. As we enter into the season of Thanksgiving, please help us to stay ever mindful of them throughout each day. Help us to stay focused on you and to fulfill your purpose for our lives each day. Help us grow closer to you and grow more in love with you with every hour. Please keep our families safe and healthy. Please help our country reconcile. May your will be done during the upcoming election and guide each one of us as we make our choices when voting. Please eradicate covid 19! And please help our country rebound economically. We love you Lord! And now let us pray the words our Lord and Savior Jesus taught us…….
Remember Jesus loves you and so do I! Emoji

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

journey through Acts, Chapter 14:1-7, 19-22

Last week in chapter 13 of Acts we began looking at Paul and his first missionary trip with Barnabas and John Mark. These men had been set apart by God to do His holy work. Just as each of us has been set apart to do His holy work! And we learned that this is when Saul is first called Paul as his begins his evangelistic efforts with the Gentiles.

As they stopped in the various cities during their travels, they always began in the synagogue. Remember God-fearers also attended synagogue – so while it might seem as if they were not actually witnessing to the Gentiles they were in fact. The three of them traveled all across the island of Cyprus and then crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Perga. This is where John Mark leaves them to return to Jerusalem, his home.

From Perga, Paul and Barnabas wind up in Pisidian Antioch and have great success there – initially. So much so, they are asked to return the following Sabbath to preach again. However, while many believed, there was a group of Jews who stirred up trouble and kicked them out of the city. We are told Paul and Barnabas then shook the dust off their feet and left with great joy in their hearts because they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 14 picks up with them arriving in Iconium and as usual they start their evangelistic efforts in the Jewish synagogue. Both Paul and Barnabas are powerful in speech and again many believe – both Jews and Greeks. However, as in Pisidian Antioch, there is a group who refuse to accept the truth about Christ and are bitterly opposed to these two men. You see church family, successful ministry often creates opposition. Satan will absolutely attack when you are on the right track! The last thing he wants is for you to be successful in witnessing for the Lord, in ministering to His people, or in making disciples for the transformation of the world!

While this group stirs up others by poisoning their minds against Paul and Barnabas, their initial attempts to foil the efforts of the two men fails. We know because we are told the apostles remain there for a considerable time. Clearly, they were both highly devoted to Christ, as such, didn’t allow the protestors to stop them in their tracks. They stayed as long as they could because they were concerned about the new Christians in Iconium facing such strong opposition. They wanted to help them gain strength in their newfound faith and to grow in the Lord.

I fear, many of us would allow constant attacks directed toward us, to discourage us. We might even quit – simply walk away. But not so with Paul and Barnabas. They stuck it out. They did not let the obstacles Satan threw in their path to dissuade them from doing what God had called them to do. Rather, they endured – they persevered. They kept at the work of the Kingdom – which was to bear witness to His amazing grace and to touch others with the power and love of Jesus. So they spoke boldly for the Lord and He honored them by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.

Luke tells us of one such miraculous event. In Lystra, the next city they traveled to after leaving Iconium, there was a man who was lame from birth. He was present during one of the speeches given by Paul and listened very carefully to him. Paul must have sensed the faith within this man and perhaps he was nudged by the Holy Spirit to heal him. So Paul simply called out to him to stand up on his feet. The man did as instructed having been completely healed.  

Bear in mind however, in order for this miracle to take place, it was necessary for this lame man to make the very important transition from hearing about the work of Jesus, to believing that it was intended for him—personally!! I wonder if we have missed out on any miracles God intended because we did not believe God’s grace and mercy, His love and forgiveness was meant for us. We didn’t have faith the size of a mustard seed. Because church family that is all it takes. Jesus told us so in Matthew 17:20, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Now this miracle performed by Paul for the lame man in itself is wonderful. However, Paul and Barnabas quickly become greatly dismayed as the people who witness this act attribute the miracle to the Gods of Hermos and Zeus – not THE One true God. Paul and Barnabas were so upset they tore their clothes, which for the Jews was a way of expressing great anguish. For Paul and Barnabas, it wasn’t just wrong that they were called gods; it was downright blasphemy.  

Rather, the apostles knew that the miraculous work that had just occurred was an act of God! No man, and yes that includes any of the most famous apostles, and certainly Paul was one of them, could perform a miracle in their own human strength. Rather, it was only through the power of the Most High God that this event occurred. And of course, the power displayed was not resident in them at all times, only as God allowed it. The miraculous signs and wonders bore witness to the word of His grace. We have often heard the gospel called a message of grace because divine grace is indeed part of its subject matter.

After this miracle and the apostles’ rush to state the truth, some Jews from Antioch and Iconium search Paul out. You see it wasn’t enough for them to kick Paul and Barnabas out of their own regions, they literally tracked the apostles down and brought the idea of persecution with them. Bear in mind they had traveled more than 100 miles just to make these two apostles miserable. Clearly they were Satan inspired and dedicated adversaries of Paul in particular.

They join with those in the area already against Paul and instigate a stoning. It was obviously an attempt to execute Paul, as most stonings did just that. As you would imagine, they ended in death. They thought they had succeeded as they dragged him out of the city and left him for dead. Clearly Paul was miraculously kept alive in this situation. Some scholars speculate that he was actually killed and raised to life again. That the vision Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 12:1-6 took place during this attack. This is entirely possible, but only conjecture.

To refresh your memory let me read the scripture for you: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know—but God knows—was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.”

It’s also very reasonable to think that during his stoning it brought to mind the stoning of Stephen, and how he had been a part of that execution. And when he later wrote in Galatians 6:17, “From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” he may have had in mind the scars from this particular incident.

Paul is revived as the disciples gathered around him. Clearly God still had more work for him to complete. As He does for all the believers who are still walking on this planet – no matter your age or level of abilities. He then returns to the same city where he had been stoned. Say what?? Seriously?? He went back? Really? Luke doesn’t tell us why he returns, but he does state that the very next day they left to go to Derbe.  

Now okay, I can see possibly sticking to the work of the Lord while being gossiped about, being slandered, and even vicious verbal attacks. But being stoned? And not only being stoned, over the course of his service to the Lord Paul experiences as he shared in 2 Corinthians 11:25, “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea.”

Now the question you might be asking yourself, is how does one stay true to the Lord under intense persecution? When undergoing severe trials, even torture? Remember, Jesus tells us to expect persecution. In John 15:20 he says, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” And in John 16:33,part of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to His disciples and all who would follow Him in the future – including you and me, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

In this verse we learn two things: 1st the followers of Jesus will suffer great distress, and 2nd Jesus has already won the victory. He didn’t want his disciples to be under the delusion that their lives would be full of ease and comfort, and He doesn’t want us as to think that either.

He tells us to take heart, but what exactly does that mean? “Take heart” has been translated as “be of good cheer” – really?? How is one happy under horrendous difficulties? But when digging deeper, the word actually means much more – it means to have courage. The root of the Greek word means to exercise bold and confident courage.

I think when Jesus says to take heart, it’s meant to embolden us and strengthen our spirit for the fight ahead – to make the choice to overcome with and through the power of Christ. Remember, the Holy Spirit lives in us, and as Paul tells us later in Acts 17, it’s “In Him that we live and move and have our being.” We simply have to rely on Jesus.

We have to take heart, because if we don’t, we will be overcome with discouragement. We will be overcome with despair. We will give up and we will quit. We won’t exhibit the necessary endurance to finish the race that is set before us. And unfortunately, it’s really easy for that to happen. Especially for those of us who are more prone to depression.

What else does it take to endure – to persevere under such dire circumstances? I think there are several qualities and characteristics – commitment, keeping the Lord the center of our lives, trust, and a loving relationship with the Him.

Regarding commitment the Lord Jesus says in Revelation 3:15, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” My heavens! That is a really strong indictment against partial commitment, or a half-hearted commitment.

Focus – intense focus on God! Remember, Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:2, “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.” Christ needs to be the center of our world! Following Him needs to be the most important aspect of our lives.

Trust. We are told in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” An absolutely critical component to enduring through persecution. Remembering that both God’s plan and His nature are good.

Of course, none of this is even possible without having an intimate, loving relationship with the Lord. Truly as stated in Mark 12:30, we are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”Now I don’t know about you but when I think about what all is necessary it can be overwhelming. The good news is church family, once again, we are not left alone to figure this all out. We have the Holy Spirit who resides within us. All we need do is pray with great sincerity and ask the Lord to deepen all of these characteristics within us and especially to deepen our relationship with Him. 
Let us pray…..almighty and powerful God please grant us the ability to persevere through trials, challenges, difficulties and Satan’s attacks. Help us to grow ever closer to You. Help us to live our lives in such a way that we shine Your light brightly. 
Please be with our country Lord. May Your will be done in this upcoming election. Guide each one of us to vote as You would have us. Help all Christians to fulfill Your will in this election. We pray for the current leaders and those who will be newly elected. Turn our country back to You. 
We pray for an ending to this pandemic Father. Bring healing and wholeness to our country and those all around the world facing this virus. May a vaccine be developed that will bring an end to it. 
We love You Father — may our lives demonstrate that in all we do. And now let us pray the words our Lord and Savior Jesus taught us…..
Remember Jesus loves you and so do I! EmojiEmoji

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts, Chapter 13:38-52

Last week we looked at the final story concerning Peter in the Acts of the Apostles, which was his rescue from prison for the second time. Herod Agrippa the 1st had just executed the apostle James, one of Jesus’ inner circle, not James the half-brother of Jesus who was the leader of the Jerusalem church. The Jews were happy with this execution because they were feeling threatened by the Gentiles. Thus, Herod thought he would do away with Peter, hoping to further increase his approval with the Jews. However, the apostles and disciples were praying fervently for Peter and the Lord answered their prayers by intervening.

We asked the question why did God save Peter and not James and truthfully we didn’t come up with an answer for that. Church family, one thing I’ve learned, particularly over the last 25-30 years of my life as a Christian is that we often don’t receive an answer to our questions – instead they remain a mystery. Most likely until we meet Jesus face-to-face. Perhaps at that time we will finally understand. Consequently, the more comfortable we are with accepting some mystery in our lives, the more comfortable we will be during our walk of faith.

We then asked another question – why does God allow pain? This question was slightly easier to answer as there are scripture passages pertaining to this subject – but the bottom line that we need to remember is this – He allows us to experience pain for His glory and for our good! Pain and suffering has the ability to be transformative if we allow ourselves to sit with it, talk it over or basically process it with the Lord, and then give it to Him.

Now this week we are looking at the end of chapter 13, thus I need to catch you up on a few things first that happened in the beginning of the chapter. We will be focusing on John Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark, his cousin Barnabas, and Saul who will now be called Paul for the first time. Keep in mind Jesus did not change his name at the time of his conversion on the road to Damascus. We know this because he was called Saul 11 more times in scripture after his conversion. So why was his name changed? Or was it?

It seems pretty clear that Saul and Paul were actually two names for the same person all along. In verse nine of this chapter we read, “But Saul, who was also called Paul.” Saul’s father gave him both a Roman and a Jewish name because he was a Roman citizen with all the rights due to citizenship as well as being a Jew. Thus, the child had both names from infancy. Saul was his Hebrew name and Paul was his Greek name.

The change was most likely noted by Luke in this chapter as he ventured out on his first missionary journey. And remember, Paul was known as the apostle to the Gentiles. Thus, when Saul/Paul launched his Gentile-focused ministry among primarily those who spoke Greek it’s perhaps only natural for Luke, the author of Acts, to begin referring exclusively to him by his Greek name. After all, the church’s nucleus is in the process of shifting from predominantly Jewish-centered Jerusalem to the Greek-centered Roman Empire.

We should also note that throughout the beginning of the chapter when referenced together, Barnabas and Saul are named in this order – Barnabas and Saul. We are told that John Mark went along as their helper. However, we see a shift in verse 13. At that point instead of Barnabas and Saul we hear Paul and his companions. Why is this significant? Because clearly Paul’s leadership had become prominent. Remember, originally Barnabas played a major role in the acceptance of Paul by the Apostles, but now here Paul is seen as the leader.

In the beginning of this chapter we read (2) “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Now there are a couple of things I want you to notice here. First of all the Holy Spirit is the one speaking and He is basically telling them that Barnabas and Saul need to be separated unto Him. They must be separate to God, which conversely implies they must separate from other things. But what things? Anything that will keep them from doing the call of God on their life. Because brothers and sisters, you can’t really say yes to God’s call on your life until you say no to the things that will keep you from fulfilling that call.

Secondly, God had a specific work He had appointed to Barnabas and Saul. Paul would later write in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Here God called Paul and Barnabas to good works. And guess what church family, He also calls you and I to good works! Each and every one of us was created for some type of work in service to the Lord.

Now are we all called to be a Paul or Barnabas? No thank heavens! Do you remember God’s specific call on Paul’s life back in Acts 9:15-16 when He stated, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer in my name.”  This was not a touchy-feely “feel good” call – it was a very serious call to a very serious ministry and one in which God forewarned would not be easy. Personally, I think enormous kudos goes to Paul for not only beginning the course, knowing that it was going to be extremely difficult, but for staying the course once he began to experience the enormous suffering he would endure for the Lord throughout the rest of his life! 

And I’m just going to be honest with you, if I had known how tough it was going to be when called to vocational ministry, I’m not so sure I would have went through with it. Now I am not stupid, and I knew it would be hard. Serving in Emmaus for 15 years taught me that when we step forward for God, Satan attacks. But I had no idea how difficult it would be. And I’m sure that’s exactly why God didn’t tell me! Rather I received nothing but encouragement when seeking His will regarding stepping forward in this manner. And I’m sure that’s because He knew I would not step up to the plate knowing how weak and whimpy I am. Can any of you relate to what I’m saying here??

Thus, God bless Paul, and Peter, John, and David, Moses, Esther, and Mary the mother of Jesus, Saint Francis of Assisi, Joan of Arc, Thomas Aquinas, Mother Teresa, and all of the mighty Apostles and Disciples of Christ. No, fortunately for us, not everyone is called to serve at the same level as these men and women of God were! But we are all called!!

Now in our scripture passage for today, Paul, Barnabas and John Mark first travel to the island of Cyrus and minister all across it, then they travel to the coastal city of Perga, on the mainland of what is today Turkey. At this point John Mark departs from them and we don’t know exactly why he left them to go home to Jerusalem.

When reading and studying scripture, it is important to understand that much of what we learn when we are studying are educated guesses made by highly accomplished scholars. We look to them to do their best to interpret the scriptures and answer our questions based on their expertise regarding the history and culture of that timeframe. Thus, it’s important to recognize that during our study, we will often come across more than one plausible answer to our questions.

For example – when it comes to John Mark’s departure, it’s been speculated that perhaps he was homesick. Perhaps, he was afraid of the tough and dangerous travel through the mountains ahead of them. Perhaps he resented the change in leadership from his cousin Barnabas to Paul. Perhaps he lost confidence because Paul suffered poor health (according to Galatians 4:13). Or maybe he never intended to go all the way with them in the first place but failed to communicate that clearly. Whatever the reason, we do know however, that Paul was not happy with his departure. This is made clear in Acts chapter 15.

Nevertheless, after John Mark’s departure Paul and Barnabas continue on their journey and travel up a steep road into the higher elevation of Pisidia Antioch in Galatia. This Antioch is not the same Antioch we read about earlier in Syria. Rather, it’s about 135 miles inland to the north and was a Roman colony with a large Jewish population.

Now whenever Paul and Barnabas went to a new city to witness for Christ, rather than separate themselves from the synagogues that was the very first place they would go. They did everything they could to clearly show that the very Scriptures the Jews studied pointed directly to Christ. Paul’s reason for doing this was grounded in his understanding of God’s redemptive plan. And just in case you think he was neglecting his Gentile mission, he was not, for the God-fearers (the Gentiles who worshipped God) were also part of the audience.

A few more logistical reasons for starting in the synagogues were that they provided a ready-made preaching situation with a building and regularly scheduled meetings. It was also customary to invite visitors, and especially visiting rabbis to address the crowd. Consequently, the synagogues were the perfect place for Paul and Barnabas to begin!

Every Jewish service in the synagogue followed a particular order. First the Shema was recited. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Certain prayers were then spoken followed by a reading from the law (the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy), a reading from the prophets intending to illustrate the law, and then a sermon. The synagogue leader would decide who would lead the service and give the sermon.

As visiting rabbis’ Paul and Barnabas were often chosen to share. However, many times as soon as they spoke about Jesus the Messiah the door was shut in their face. Paul’s first message to the Jews in the synagogue in Antioch however, went well. He began with an emphasis on God’s covenant with Israel. He started there because this was a point of agreement as all Jews were proud to be God’s chosen people. Then Paul went on to explain how the gospel fulfilled the covenant. His sermon was so well received as they were leaving the synagogue, they were invited to return the following Sabbath to speak further.

On the next Sabbath almost the whole city had gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But of course many of the Jews became highly jealous and began talking abusively about Paul and Barnabas. They stirred up persecution against them and not only had Paul and Barnabas expelled from the synagogue, but expelled from the region. So the two men shook the dust from their feet in protest against all those in the city. This signified the severance of responsibility and the renouncing of those who had rejected their message.

Remember in Matthew Jesus had told his disciples to shake the dust from their feet of any town that would not accept or listen to them. The disciples were not to blame if the message was rejected, as long as they had faithfully presented it. When we share Christ carefully and sensitively, God does not hold us responsible for the other person’s decision.

I love Billy Graham’s quote, “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.” We are held responsible however, if He leads us to share the gospel with someone and we refuse to do so. And certainly when we really think about it – the most loving act we can ever offer anyone is to share the good news of the gospel with them! Don’t you think?? In so doing, we can rejoice in the presence of the Holy Spirit and we can experience His tremendous joy just as Paul and Barnabas did upon leaving that city.Let us pray, loving and merciful God we ask that we would feel Your Presence in a powerful way today. May we feel Your love in a manner that we have never experienced before. May we receive Your gracious forgiveness for our sins. Help us to repent and turn to You wherever we need to. Help us to recognize Your call on our lives and live it out in the power of the Holy Spirit. Help us to shine Your light, share Your love and spread Your joy to all we meet today and every day. And now let us pray the words our Lord and Savior Jesus taught us. Our Father……
Remember Jesus loves you and so do I!

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts, Chapter 12:1-19

Over the last couple of weeks, we have looked at the conversion of the Ethiopian, Saul and the Gentile, Cornelius. We have studied just exactly what Cornelius’s conversion represented and the importance of his conversion. Which, if you recall, was the fact that God loved the Gentiles too and was offering His amazing grace to them as well as to the Jews. God’s love was available to all people of all nationalities. We also briefly looked at the vital role Barnabas played in assimilating Saul into the leadership of the early church. 

Today we are going to look at the last big story surrounding Peter in the book of Acts. The outline of Acts can be roughly divided into two parts: the mission under Peter, centered in Jerusalem and the gradual spread of the gospel beyond the Jewish limits, which comprises chapters 1-12; and the mission to the Gentiles all the way to Rome, under the leadership of Paul, which comprises chapters 13-28 . Thus, next week, beginning in chapter 13 the book will focus primarily on Paul and his missionary journeys.

Truthfully, I’m kind of sad that we won’t be hearing much more about Peter in Acts as I love him – he has a special place in my heart! However, Paul is every bit as interesting and we can learn so very much from him too.

As chapter twelve opens, we hear some very distressing news. James, the brother of John, son of Zebedee, and one of the three beloved disciples of Jesus, was arrested and martyred by King Herod. Four generations of the Herod family are mentioned in the Bible. Each leader left his evil mark. Herod the Great murdered the baby boys in Bethlehem during the time of Jesus’ birth; Herod Antipas was involved in Jesus’ trial and John the Baptist’s execution; Herod Agrippa 1 murdered the apostle James which we will learn more about today. And later we will hear about Herod Agrippa II who was one of Paul’s judges.  

Herod’s decision to have James martyred was a purely political move. He knew that he would gain favor with the Jews who were alarmed at the rapid growth of the Gentiles being accepted into the church. And just as he thought, the Jews were quite pleased with James’ death, so he determined to take down Peter next. Herod had Peter arrested during the Passover celebration. This was a highly strategic move, since more Jews were in the city than usual, and Herod could impress the most people by arresting him at that time. Herod’s plan was undoubtedly to execute Peter just as he had James. However, he didn’t count on the prayers that were being lifted up on Peter’s behalf, nor on God intervening as He did.

While in prison, Peter was guarded by four squads of soldiers. Remember, the Romans were aware that Peter and the rest of the apostles had been arrested once before and somehow had escaped! They were rescued by an angel of the Lord as we heard back in Acts chapter five. So, consequently, they had one company of four soldiers for each of the four watches of the night guard him. Extraordinary precautions were also taken by chaining him to two soldiers instead of one which was the norm. The other two soldiers kept watch outside of Peter’s cell.

Again, God intervenes on Peter’s behalf and sends an angel to rescue him. Listen, “That night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him” (6-7). I think there is something really important we need to look at here. Did you see it? This appears to be the night before Peter’s impending execution, and he is sound asleep!!! Hello! He is going to be murdered the next day and he is sleeping for Pete’s sake! I don’t know about you, but I find that extraordinary! I don’t think I would have been able to sleep a wink! However, apparently, he was not anxious at all. Which just goes to show the depth and breadth of His relationship with Jesus, and how totally and completely, at this point in his life, that he trusted in God.

Now of course, it doesn’t matter how many prison cells, how many guards, or how many chains needed to be broken through – as nothing is impossible for God. Nothing is too hard for Him! As far as He was concerned, Peter’s rescue was a piece of cake. The angel wakes him up, tells him to get up and as he stands his chains literally fall off. Peter is then directed to get dressed, and to follow him. Now we are told Peter is not exactly sure what is going on. As a matter of fact, initially he thinks he’s seeing a vision. But he does not question the angel. He does what he is told. He knew enough to sense that God was doing something, and the explanation could come later.

Now we all know that wasn’t necessarily the norm for Peter – for him to obey without questioning God, but in this case, he did, and it went well for him! I think life would go a lot better for us if we did what God told us to do the first time around without question! Don’t you?!

The angel then leads him past the guards outside of the cell and out of the prison. Next, they come to an iron gate that leads to the city and it opened automatically. They went through the gate and down the street and then the angel disappeared. Peter proceeds to go straight to Mary’s house as she often opened her home to the apostles. Now this is not Mary Magdalene, nor the Mother of Jesus, but rather Mary the mother of John Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark. John Mark was Barnabas’s cousin so John Mark would have been exposed to most of the great men and teachings of the early church. Luckily, we will hear more about John Mark in the next chapter.

Many believers had gathered at Mary’s house to pray on behalf of Peter, so he wanted to present himself to those who had been praying for him. And just as an aside, some scholars speculate that an upstairs room in her house may have been the location of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples.

We are told that constant and earnest prayer was offered to God on behalf of Peter. Constant and earnest prayer has power not because it in itself persuades a reluctant God. Rather, it demonstrates that if our heart cares passionately about the things that God cares about, it fulfills Jesus’ promise, “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).

Their prayers were answered, even as they were praying. But when the answer arrived at the door, they didn’t believe. Rhoda, a servant, was the one to answer and was so excited to see Peter that she shuts the door basically in his face and then goes and tells the others that Peter has been freed. And just as stated, they don’t believe her, much like the apostles didn’t believe Mary Magdalene and the women when they reported that Jesus was alive. Peter is persistent, however, and continues to knock. They go to the door once again and see and believe. He then directs those present to go tell James, the brother of Jesus. James had become a leader in the Jerusalem church. Peter then leaves most likely to go somewhere safe.

Now I have a question for you. How many of you believe that your prayers actually have power? I mean really believe that? Do you expect to hear from the Lord when you pray?? It is imperative that as people of faith we believe that God answers the prayers of those who seek His will. When you pray, believe you’ll get an answer. And when the answer comes, don’t be surprised; be thankful! And if the answer doesn’t come, remember we need to always be praying in God’s will, then trust that His plan is better even when it seems like it is not. For example, the story I just read about a young pastor and his wife being killed in a head-on collision while their three young children ages 6, 4, and 1 were in the back seat of the car – all of which are okay. That just doesn’t make sense does it? I mean we simply don’t know how to process that one do we?

Now if you were paying attention at all when you read this chapter, most likely you stopped and asked yourself, why did God save Peter and not James. Certainly, as far as I’m concerned, it would seem that God’s will would be for all the apostles to live long and fruitful lives! Don’t you agree? After all, James was one of the three beloved disciples of Jesus too, just as Peter was, so surely it wasn’t a question of God’s preference of one over the other. And God doesn’t play favorites anyway, as we learn in Romans 2:11. So why? Why James and not Peter?? And by the way, we know that James was not the first to be martyred for the faith – Stephen was. But he was the first of the original 12 to be martyred. Actually, only John would not be martyred for his faith – all of the rest of the apostles would be.

And then of course there is the even deeper question of why does God allow pain in the first place?!?! I wish I knew! I’m not going to pretend to know the answer. But what I do know with certainty is that our God is a good God. He has a good plan for each one of us. He takes the bad that happens to us and uses it for His glory and our good when we love Him. He uses pain to transform us, to prune us, to develop perseverance within us, which leads to character, and character which leads to hope. But most importantly of all, pain can be used by God to stretch us and grow us into the image and likeness of His beloved Son Jesus!

Church family the bottom line is – pain has the ability to be transformational. As such, it can be an extremely powerful motivator in our lives if we let it. However, transformation will only occur when we work to move through the pain. Unfortunately, most of us do everything in our power to avoid the pain – we will deny it or numb it or just barely skim the surface of it, rather than allow it to teach us about ourselves and to literally transform us. Consequently, we wind up carrying the pain around with us, it becomes stored in our hearts, our minds, and yes even our bodies. Trauma experts have begun to conduct serious research looking at how our pain is stored within the cells of our physical bodies.

Thus, unresolved pain becomes toxic within us and it impacts our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health and wellbeing. I know that this has been a tough year for many of you. Might I encourage you to consider taking a serious look at the pain you carry within. To allow yourself to feel the pain, to walk through it, remembering in the process that God is with you.

“When we pass through the waters, He is with us; and when we pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over us. When we walk through the fire, we will not be burned; the flames will not set us ablaze” (Is. 43:2). I want you all to know that this all applies to me as well and I have determined to take a good hard look at all the pain I’ve been carrying around for most of my 60 years of existence. I am going to allow myself to feel the pain, instead of numbing it or avoiding it, I’m going to talk about it with the Lord, learn from it and then give it to Him as He desires us to cast our burdens upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). I hope you will join me on this quest to allow pain to transform me! I know that Jesus is calling to each one of us to be the very best we can be on His behalf! A good bit of the transformation process is walking through and processing the pain of our lives.

And don’t worry, we won’t be alone in this quest. As billions of Christians around the globe have experienced pain in their lives. You simply cannot live life without pain. Much of which most likely has gone unaddressed. And today we join all of them, all of our fellow believers, as we do throughout the year, we simply don’t focus on it, in celebrating the Lord’s Supper on this World Communion Sunday. Which is always the first Sunday of October every year. A day in which several Christian denominations come together to observe Holy Communion while promoting Christian unity and cooperation. And certainly, we can pray for unity around the globe, but particularly here in the US as we’ve been torn apart this year by racial inequality, the covid 19 epidemic and political beliefs. That is most definitely not God’s plan for His people. Rather Jesus tells us they will know we are Christians by our love. How well are we loving each other??Let us pray, Holy and Gracious God thank you! Thank you for sending your Son Jesus to die for us. Thank you for offering us the gift of remembrance through Holy Communion. Thank you for the constant presence of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for your great love. Please watch over all of us around the world who call you Father. Please protect us from all evil. Please help us to walk through the pain that we have endured during our lives. Help us to process and learn from it and then give it to you to carry in our place. We love you Lord. And now let us pray the words our Father taught us. Our Father……
Remember Jesus loves you and so do I. Hope to see you soon!

Blessings,

Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts, Chapter 11:19-30

For the last 3 weeks in the Acts of the Apostles we have been hearing about conversions – the conversion of the Ethiopian, Saul and finally Cornelius. During this 3rd conversion however, the Apostles learn something that was most likely quite shocking to them. What did they learn? “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). Now don’t miss the importance of that statement. First of which, Gentiles were now welcome in the house of God!! It no longer belonged to only those of the Jewish faith. Peter said in Acts 10:34-35, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right.”. But secondly, what leads to life?? Repentance leads to life! And what does repentance mean? Repentance means to change direction. To turn from evil and turn to good – turn to God, the one true God, the Triune God!

We also don’t want to forget what we learned from chapter ten that even though Cornelius was a God-fearer – a Gentile who respected the one true God, this God of the Jews, and who lived a moral life, yet he was still separated spiritually from God. Remember humans became separated from God way back in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the apple. It took the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to reconcile us once again to the Father. To justify us – to make us right with Him.

Thus, Cornelius was not saved, and neither was Saul, nor the Ethiopian, nor any person who does not believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Cornelius was not saved until he came into right standing with God through faith and belief in Jesus ChristJesus said, I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6.

And Paul tells us, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” 2nd Cor. 5:21. God is a holy and perfect God, therefore all those who wish to enter eternal life in heaven must be holy and perfect too. And that can only happen through the means of propitiation. What is propitiation you ask?

Propitiation is a big word that means satisfaction. Again, because God is a holy God, His anger burns against sin. And because He is a just God, He has sworn that sin must be punished. There must be a satisfactory payment for our sin. And church family, truthfully, do we not feel the same way? Don’t we want justice when someone sins against us? Of course, we do. So, looking at it from a purely human perspective, not even from God’s, it makes sense that God would require justice. However, God as a merciful God realized “If I punish man for his sin, man will die and go to hell. On the other hand, if I don’t punish man for his sin, My need for justice will never be satisfied.”

So how did God solve this problem, this dilemma? What was the solution He came up with? God become our substitute. He took the sin of mankind upon Himself in agony and blood—a righteous judgment and substitute for sin – our sin. His wrath burned out on the cross when His only Son died as man’s propitiation for sin. And this church family …….. is love. “We love, because he first loved us” 1 John 4:19.

Our God is a God who is holy, just, merciful and loving. “He wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” 1 Timothy 2:4. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9. Therefore, church family, unlike what many people believe, God does not send people to hell. He gives us the wonderful gift of choice. He tells us exactly what we need to do. Consequently, we send ourselves to hell when we chose not to accept His loving offer – the sacrifice of His Son – so that we might live forever!

Now as we begin chapter 11, we hear that the apostles and believers throughout Judea are not happy with Peter at all because they heard that he had went into a Gentile’s home and actually had a meal with them. Sharing a meal together was a special sign of fellowship in that time and culture. Not to mention, Jews simply did not associate with Gentiles, period. They were considered unclean; hence the vision we read about in chapter ten that God gave to Peter when he was in a trance regarding clean and unclean animals.

Consequently, these Jewish Christians considered Peter’s behavior to be a significant compromise. So, they confront him. He in turn, explains exactly what happened. After his explanation they understood – the lightbulb went off in their heads. God’s goodness and mercy, His amazing grace – was for all people, not just the Jews.

This reaction of the Christian Jews shows how significant the change was that God initiated in Acts 10. The change said to the Gentiles, and this is very important, “You don’t have to become Jews first, you don’t have to be circumcised and put yourself under the Law of Moses, in order to follow Christ. Repent and believe and you can come to Jesus.” But it also said to the Jewish followers of Jesus, “Receive your Gentile brothers and sisters as full members of the family of God. They are not inferior to you in any way.” 

As we get into the second half of this chapter and our scripture passage for the day, we hear once again how up until this time, the gospel was only being shared with Jews, not the Gentiles. It is in Antioch where we hear about Jewish Christians first targeting Gentiles for evangelism. And that because the Lord’s hand was with them, also known as divine intervention, their effort had great results. Remember we heard about divine intervention in our earlier conversion stories. Clearly God was present with the apostles and disciples in the early church. And because His hand was upon them in Antioch, once again, a large number believed and turned to the Lord. In other words, repented.

David Guzik said:

You can’t turn people to the Lord unless the hand of the Lord is with them.

You can turn people to a personality without the hand of the Lord.

You can turn people to a social club without the hand of the Lord.

You can even turn people to a church or an institution without the hand of the Lord.

But you can’t turn people to the Lord without the hand of the Lord. The Holy Spirit must be present. And yes, the Holy Spirit was present!

Next in the passage we have Barnabas reentering the story. By the way, Barnabas is called an apostle, later in Acts chapter 14. You might recall we first heard about Barnabas in Acts 4:36-37, Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

And then again in Acts 9:27 regarding Saul: “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.”

And here in this scripture we learn even more about Barnabas, “When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord” 11:22-24.


At this time, Barnabas becomes, once again, associated with Saul. Realizing both the amount of work and the depth of work needed in Antioch, Barnabas remembers Saul and departed for Tarsus to go find him. If you recall, Saul had been sent to Tarsus for his own protection.

Once Barnabas finds Saul after a laborious search, they both return to Antioch. Antioch was 300 miles north of Jerusalem, and 20 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. Many considered Antioch the 3rd greatest city in the Roman empire behind Rome and Alexandria. It was known for its business and commerce, its sophistication and culture, but also for its immorality. Hence Barnabas’s request for help from Saul.

Now at this point when the two of them reunite, it is 44 A.D. Saul was converted in 33 A.D. so about 11 years have gone by since his conversion. Paul spent three years in Arabia immediately after his conversion, then he returned to Damascus to preach Jesus as the Messiah. He fled Damascus because of persecution; visited Jerusalem and met with the apostles with the help of Barnabas. He then preached in Tarsus from 36 A.D. to 44 A.D. and that is when he was invited by Barnabas to go to Antioch. So, while it doesn’t necessarily sound like it when you are reading through these couple of chapters, several years have actually gone by.

Saul and Barnabas worked side-by-side in the church in Antioch for a year. We are told together they taught a great many people. This resulted in the church growing, and disciples being equipped to go and make more disciples – the great commission we learn about in Matthew 28:16-20: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”. Thus, this church became strong in the Lord! Despite Antioch’s lack of morality, because of this church and the great preachers who preached there, including Barnabas, Paul and Peter, the church in Antioch grew to have a world-wide impact.

By the way, Antioch is where we first hear the term Christian. They had been called disciples in Acts 1:15. They had been called believers in Acts 5:14; witnesses in Acts 5:32; brothers in Acts 6:3; followers of the Way in Acts 9:2; saints in Acts 9:13. Now they would be called Christians. And later in Acts 24:5 they would be called Nazarenes.

However, truthfully, they probably first used the term Christian to mock the followers of Jesus. “Antioch was famous for its readiness to jeer and name call. But as the people of Antioch called the followers of Jesus Christians, the believers appreciated the title so much that it stuck. Interestingly though, the word Christian only appears in the Bible twice and the word Christianity does not appear at all.

When you think of the word Christian – what does it mean to you? How would you define it? When I looked up the biblical definition of the word Christian this is what I found: one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Now I have a question for you to consider as I often do. When someone asks you who you are and you begin to define yourself and perhaps even give a list of some of the roles you play, for example, I’m a man, a woman, a husband, a wife, a father, a mother, a farmer, a teacher, a sports fanatic, a pianist, etc. Do you also include I am a Christian? Or I’m a child of God? Or I am a Son or Daughter of the Most-High God?  If you don’t, should not your Christianity be the very essence of who you are? And perhaps it should be identified first.   

Eusebius, the famous early church historian, described a believer named Sanctus from Lyons, France, who was tortured for Jesus. As they tortured him cruelly, they hoped to get him to say something evil or blasphemous. They asked his name, and he only replied, “I am a Christian.” “What nation do you belong to?” He answered, “I am a Christian.” “What city do you live in?” “I am a Christian.” His questioners began to get angry: “Are you a slave or a free man?” “I am a Christian” was his only reply. No matter what they asked about him, he only answered, “I am a Christian.” This made his torturers all the more determined to break him, but they could not, and he died with the words “I am a Christian” on his lips. (Eusebius, Church History)Let us pray…… Holy God may we first identify as a Christian. May our love of You and our relationship with You be so deeply entrenched within that it is the very first thing we think to say when we are asked about ourselves and may we not be ashamed to say it. We thank You for Your love so great that You sacrificed Your Son that we might be with You. We love You Lord. And now let us pray the words our Lord and Savior Jesus taught us. Our Father…….
Have a beautiful week. Remember Jesus loves you and so do I!

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts, Chapter 10:9-23

Two weeks ago, in chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles we heard about the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch through Philip, the evangelist. Last week in chapter 9, we stepped away from Philip to hear about Saul’s conversion and how he was struck blind by Jesus. Jesus told Saul in no uncertain terms just exactly who it was that he was persecuting. He then told him to continue to Damascus, where he was subsequently healed by Ananias 3 days later.

In chapter 10 we enter an entirely new and exciting phase of the Christian Church, the opening of the door of faith to the Gentiles. In other words, to anyone who was not a Jew. They were now recognized on equal terms with the Jews. We discover that Peter has been conferred the honor of initiating this great movement. Consequently, we step away from Saul to hear about the conversion of a Roman centurion named Cornelius.

Cornelius lives in Caesarea, located 32 miles north of Joppa, and named in honor of Augustus Caesar. The largest and most important port city on the Mediterranean in Palestine, Caesarea served as the capital of the Roman province of Judea and served as the headquarters of the Roman forces. Caesarea is remarkable in that it was the first city to have Gentile Christians and a non-Jewish church. However, although stationed in Caesarea, Cornelius would probably return to Rome. Thus, his conversion was a major stepping-stone for spreading the gospel to the empire’s capital city.

When thinking back over the last 3 chapters in Acts, and the 3 men we hear about who experienced conversion, there is an astounding truth that we do not want to miss. And that is the unbelievable precision of our amazing God. We are witness to His incredible orchestration of all that happened in the lives of these 3 men – of the actual events that occurred leading up to their conversion. Please understand, they were all directed by God to follow Jesus Christ. As “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). God lined everything up. He put together each minute detail that would result in their conversions – the Ethiopian, Saul and now Cornelius. Their salvation was a direct result of divine intervention. Praise God and His Holy Name!

Clearly God had a plan for each one of these men and He put into motion what was needed for His plan to come to fruition. We do not want to miss this astounding truth! And we need to always remember it because church family, He has done the same for us. He has created a plan and purpose for each one of us! He has divinely intervened at various times throughout our lives for very important reasons. The question is are we walking in His plan for our lives? Are we following Jesus? Have we allowed Him to intervene, because clearly as we will see in this story – faith in God alone is not enough, we must also have faith in Christ!

Now centurions were essential to the Roman army as they provided necessary stability to the entire Roman system and were distinguished by their ability to lead. As a centurion, Cornelius commanded a military unit that normally numbered 100 soldiers. The Roman legion (about 6,000 men) was divided into 10 regiments. Thus, a centurion commanded about a sixth of a regiment. Centurions were carefully selected men; and all of them mentioned in the NT appear to have had noble qualities, and Cornelius is no different.

As a matter of fact, Cornelius and his family were devout God-fearers. We are told in our scripture passage this morning that he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. He exhibited exemplary piety, and as such, his prayers were heard by God. God-fearers were Gentiles who worshipped the God of Israel and respected the moral and ethical teachings of the Jews. They associated themselves with the life of the synagogue and certain aspects of Torah-observance but had not fully converted to Judaism – rather they stopped short of becoming full Jews in lifestyle and in circumcision. As a God-fearer, Cornelius respected Jewish beliefs and customs (including food laws and special days), and often associated with the Jews.

Which is quite remarkable when you consider that a patriotic Jew of that day would naturally dislike or possibly even hate him. As Roman soldiers did not have a great reputation since they were often involved in extortion and brutalization of the local population. However, Jewish people of that time did respect and appreciate these God-fearing Gentiles. The Jews were greatly limited however, in that they could not really share their life, homes and food with them. Because God-fearers were still in fact Gentiles.

Here is the second point we absolutely do not want to miss in this story! Despite all of Cornelius’ good deeds, even though he knew and loved the one true God, and he prayed to Him daily, it was not enough. He needed to hear the way of salvation, as did the Ethiopian and Saul. And what is the way? Or perhaps instead I should ask, who is the way? Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Now I am sure like me you have often wondered what will happen to those who never hear about Jesus Christ. If God is a just God, and we know that He is, what will He do in these situations? Cornelius was not a believer in Christ, but he was seeking God, and he was reverent and generous. Therefore, God sent Peter to tell Cornelius about Jesus. Remember, God wants all to be found, “He wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1st Timothy 2:4). Cornelius is a wonderful example that God indeed “rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

But, again, knowing and loving the true God was not enough. He needed to know Jesus too! He needed faith in Jesus! He needed to follow Jesus. This is a big concern for me right now and perhaps it is for you as well. Many, many people believe in God! They, just like Cornelius, are good people! They may be generous and donate money throughout the year. They may volunteer and serve in various ways to help those who are disenfranchised – the poor, the widows, the orphans, the immigrants, those in prison, etc. Yet, if Jesus is not their Lord and Savior – they are not saved. This passage – this story – makes this truth – very clear. Cornelius did not know the way of salvation – but the Father, because Cornelius was seeking – provided the way. Not only literally through the death of Jesus on the cross, but He led Cornelius to the truth of his need to have faith in Christ.

So, how did this come about? God sent an angel to Cornelius. Of course, as you would expect, this frightened Cornelius as I am sure it would frighten you and me if the Lord sent an angel to us. The angel basically told him that God had seen and heard his prayers. He announced to Cornelius that he was to send for Simon Peter who was in Joppa. The angel even told him exactly where Peter was located so there was no guesswork involved. However, please note, even though God did not tell him why he was to send for Simon Peter, Cornelius was obedient and did exactly as he was told. The next day, he sent two of his servants as well as one soldier to find Peter and bring him back to Caesarea.

Notice, first God spoke to Cornelius through an angel. Then when Cornelius sent the messengers to retrieve Peter, God the Holy Spirit spoke to Peter himself, just as the three men were approaching the city. Peter had gone up to the roof to pray. It was customary for eastern houses to have flat roofs with outside stairways. The roof was used as a convenient place for relaxation and privacy. We are told that Peter was hungry, and his meal was being prepared for him, and that while he was praying, he fell into a trance.

A trance is a state of mind produced by God who then used it to communicate with Peter. It was not merely Peter’s imagination or a dream. His consciousness was heightened to receive the vision from God. “Peter saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by it’s four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up Peter. Kill and eat.’” Peter had this vision three times; the repetition served to confirm the shocking message and emphasize its significance.

Peter was confused and told the Lord no, he was not going to get up, kill and eat because he had never eaten anything impure or unclean before. Yes, you heard me right, Peter said no to God, which is absurd when you think about it. The only legitimate answer to a request from God is a resounding “yes!” Clearly, though, he struggled to understand what God was doing. And don’t we all? Don’t we all struggle to understand what God is doing at times in our lives? God responded to Peter’s no with, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Keep in mind, Peter’s struggle with this came as his lifelong adherence to the Jewish food laws collided with the Lord’s command to kill and eat unclean animals. According to Jewish law, certain foods were forbidden to be eaten. The food laws even made it difficult for Jews to eat with Gentiles without risking defilement. In fact, the Gentiles themselves were often seen as “unclean.” In saying that, it is easier to understand the vision. It makes perfect sense that clean and unclean animals were used in the vision because the Jews considered the Gentiles unclean.

Peter was trying to figure out what the vision meant and while doing so, the men sent by Cornelius arrived at the gate. Simultaneously, the Holy Spirit told him there were three men looking for him and he was to go with them without hesitation as He had sent them. The three men explained to Peter that Cornelius was told by an angel to send for him. Peter invited them in for the night. By providing lodging for them Peter was already taking the first step toward accepting Gentiles. Such an intimate relationship with Gentiles was contrary to prescribed Jewish practice. The next day they all left to go to Caesarea. 

In anticipation of Peter’s arrival Cornelius had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter walked inside and found a large gathering, he stated to all, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So, when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?” (Acts 10:28-29). Cornelius explains he was told by the angel to do so. “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right’” (10:34). Now what does this mean?  That ALL those who have faith in Christ are welcome in the family of God. Peter then goes on to share the gospel with all present. While he was still speaking the Holy Spirit came upon all who heard the message and everyone listening began to speak in tongues just like on the day of Pentecost. Peter then proclaims they should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and so they were.

Peter’s vision meant that he should not look upon Gentiles as inferior people whom God would not redeem. Before having the vision, Peter would have thought a Gentile Roman officer could not become a follower of Christ. Afterward, he understood that it was his responsibility to go with the messengers into a Gentile home and tell Cornelius the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Steeped in Jewish tradition and filled with certain biases, Peter had been convinced that his views on Gentiles were correct. It took a heavenly vision for God to change Peter’s mind. The final lesson from this chapter in Acts that I would like us to walk away with is that when God speaks, we must not challenge what he says. Doubting God is rebellion. When God tells us something, we should not debate with him. The right response is humble submission to his revealed truth. Have you ever argued with God over some point that he has already made clear? I certainly have.

Remember brothers and sisters – Cornelius was religious, devoted, respected and sincere. However, he was still spiritually separated from God. Because he needed to understand the gospel, God sent Peter to present to him the truth about salvation. We must be careful not to equate earnestness with righteousness before God. We are brought into right standing with God by faith in Christ alone. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” 2nd Cor. 5:21. Do you believe and trust in Jesus? Are you sharing with others the truth that Christ is the only way to God?Let us pray. Holy and Gracious God we praise You for your amazing grace, your amazing goodness, and your amazing love! Thank you for sending your Son Jesus so that we might be reconciled to you. Thank you for leading us to Him, for drawing us near. Thank you for all your provision and protection. Thank you for keeping us healthy and well. Thank you for this church and this family of believers. May we glorify your Great Name and bear fruit for your Great Kingdom. Now let us pray the words our Lord and Savior Jesus taught us……
Have a wonderful day! Enjoy this beautiful weather!! Remember Jesus loves you and so do I!

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts, Chapter 9:1-19

We ended chapter eight last week with the story of Philip the evangelist who left a powerful and highly successful preaching ministry before large crowds in Samaria. Why – out of obedience to the Lord. God called Philip to proclaim the gospel to a single man, an Ethiopian traveling on a desert road. Because of his obedience and this single man’s conversion the gospel was then taken to the continent of Africa and was spread into the power structures of another government.

Philip followed the Spirit’s leading and great things happened, as they always do when we obey the Lord. We may not be privy to what occurs, but remember Jesus told us in John that His Father is always working and that He too is at work. Whether we see results or not, we can be assured of the power of God transpiring in all that He calls us to do.

Today we are going to delve more deeply into one of the greatest stories of personal transformation you will ever hear! And in this story we see how Saul, a prideful, self-righteous man, would later become known as Paul the apostle to the Gentiles and the greatest missionary the world has ever known. The great reversal in Saul, his repentance – began on the road to Damascus. In his renewal process Saul grew from being highly self-centered to being centered only in Christ.

Saul came to know Christ in a deeply profound way. His personal relationship with the Lord led to his experiencing, as he shares in Philippians 3:10, the power of the Lord’s resurrection, fellowship with Him through suffering and becoming like Him in death. Knowing Jesus comes through not only the acquisition of factual knowledge, but also experiential knowledge, knowledge that is gained through personal experience. And in Saul’s case, through his intensely personal relationship with the Lord, he experienced complete and total transformation. However, before any of that occurred, he was struck down by the Lord and deeply humbled in the process.

So, chapter nine in the Acts of the Apostles opens with Philip having vanished from the picture and we are reintroduced to Saul once again. You know, the man who was persecuting Christians. He had basically declared war on them, much like some extremist groups of today have declared war on followers of Christ. Let’s face it, Saul hated Christians! He hated them so much that he actually got permission from the high priest, Caiaphas, to pursue them all the way to Damascus, thus, basically pursuing them to their very death.

Damascus was located 150 miles away from Jerusalem, so it was a good 4-6 days of travel depending on the speed of the travelers’. Damascus was the closest important city outside of the Holy Land and it had a large Jewish population. It was a key commercial city in the Roman province of Syria and several trade routes linked Damascus to other cities throughout the Roman world. Saul may have thought that by stamping out Christianity in Damascus, he could prevent its spread to other areas.

The fact that Saul was authorized with warrants from the priest to imprison followers of Jesus indicates his high standing among Jewish religious leaders. He had planned to bring them back to Jerusalem since it was the center of Judaism. But he was stopped in his tracks literally mid-stride. You see, Saul thought he was persecuting heretics, the people of The Way, which was a common name for the early Christians. But in actuality he was persecuting Christ Himself, because anyone who persecuted believers was persecuting Jesus.

So what happened? He and his companions are on the road when all of a sudden they were overcome by a blinding light from heaven! Now keep in mind, it’s about noon, so it’s already light out, but this light was shockingly white, shockingly bright. Unlike anything any of us have ever seen before. It was so distressing, they all literally fell to the ground and then Saul heard someone say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. Saul’s question, “who are you Lord,” does not necessarily indicate his recognition of Jesus. Rather Lord was also used as a reverential address in reply to any heavenly figure. Or as some scholars have suggested, it was simply the equivalent to our use of the word “sir” today – it was a title implying respect.

Jesus then not only revealed His identity to Saul, but He made him aware of whom he was really persecuting, followed by instructions to go into the city. However, when Saul got up from the ground and opened his eyes, he discovered he was blind.

Now have you ever wondered why God blinded him? I certainly have! Perhaps it was because He needed to break Saul of his pride and self-righteous behavior and wanted him to become aware of His authority and power. Or, maybe it was what was needed for Paul to surrender to the Lord. God took him to a state of helplessness – of complete and total dependence on Him. Another possibility is despite what Saul believed about who he was; he was very, very lost. And because of that, he needed to lose his sight in order to actually gain it. He wouldn’t be able to clearly see God unless his old way of looking at things was literally taken from him – but enough speculation.

I wonder what went through Saul’s mind, what he was thinking – what he was feeling at that moment when he opened his eyes and discovered his blindness. Going immediately blind, going immediately deaf, becoming paralyzed in an instant, anything like that is going to cause a crisis in an individual’s life.

So here we have this man, a man of great intellect, great influence, great power, whom all of a sudden is being led by his hands, like a small child, because he can’t see to find his own way. That’s telling isn’t it? Talk about loss of independence. Talk about loss of identity. Talk about humbling. Did fear grip his heart? Did terror? We are told he was blind for three days and that he did not eat or drink anything during that time.

And that’s just one side of the equation. Even more importantly, he had to have been overcome by not only shock, but tremendous remorse, and extreme guilt as the enormity of what he had been doing all along sunk in. His horrific actions toward those who believed in Christ surely dawned on him more and more over the course of those three days. Again, this must have been a very humbling experience for him. Have you ever been humbled by God? I know I certainly have. And it’s never a fun situation. Nor is it comfortable. And unfortunately, just like Saul, pride is a sin the vast majority of Christians struggle with whether we realize it or not.

But fortunately for Saul, God had a plan. He always does you know?! He had a plan that He made apparent to both Saul and Ananias, the man who would heal Saul of his blindness. When the Lord reveals His plan to Ananias, however, it appears Ananias questions the Lord’s judgment. After all he has heard about Saul. He knew what Saul had been doing to his brothers and sisters in Christ. He may have felt fear in his heart and wandered if he too would be persecuted?

The Lord assures him however, that He has chosen Saul as His instrument to proclaim His name to the Gentiles, to their kings and to the people of Israel. Thus, despite Ananias’ uncertain and perhaps anxious feelings, he obeyed God, just as Philip obeyed God. He healed Paul and ministered to him with love. Interestingly, God first revealed His plan for Saul to Ananias, rather than Saul. Bear in mind that He often does that in our lives too. Others become aware of our calling before we do. They see things in us before we see it in ourselves. And remember, God often does use people to affirm for us when He speaks to us.

Now when thinking about this transformation, it is important to understand that Paul’s Damascus road experience was not merely a vision. The resurrected Christ actually appeared to Saul. This truth is stated twice in this very chapter in verses 17 and 27. And the substance of this story is told two more times, in Paul’s speech before the crowd in Jerusalem in 22:3-16 and in his testimony before Agrippa and Festus in 26:4-18. The conversation is reported in somewhat different terms in the parallel accounts, but there is no basic discrepancy in the general content of what is said in each scene as a whole.

Paul personally met Jesus Christ and his life was never the same. When confronted by Christ, Paul acknowledged Him as Lord, surrendered his life to Him, resolved to obey Him and developed a deeply abiding relationship with Him. This is what true conversion is – acknowledgment, surrender, obedience and relationship. The lives Paul touched were changed and challenged by meeting Christ through him. And please note God did not waste any part of Paul – his background, his training, his citizenship, his mind or even his weaknesses. He will use our past and our present so we may serve Him with our future.

We make a mistake when we limit God. He knows who He wants to call, He knows how to get their attention, and He can do it anytime and anywhere. He can do anythingNothing is too hard for Him as we learn in the book of Job. Nothing is impossible for Him as we hear in Luke. Rather, with God all things are possible as stated in Matthew. We just need to obey and follow His leading, even and especially when He leads us to difficult circumstances, people and places. Of course this is where we want to balk – to talk back – to question, just as Ananias did. But instead we must persevere on, we must endure for the Lord’s sake.

Remember, sometimes God breaks into a life in a spectacular manner, as He did in Paul’s life and in the life of my brother in Christ – Jeff. And sometimes conversion is a quiet experience! The right way to come to faith in Jesus is whatever way God brings you! Was your conversion a spectacular experience or a quiet experience??Let us pray:Holy God we praise Your name! We praise Who You are! We praise what You have done for each of us! Thank You for Your Son Jesus, for the Holy Spirit, for the breath of life! Thank You for the opportunity to witness for You, to serve You with all that we are. And now let us pray the words our Lord and Savior Jesus taught us. Our Father……

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts, 8:26-40

Good morning church family! I hope you have had a good week and are ready and eager to begin this new one. Today is communion Sunday so please take a minute to gather together whatever you will be using for the elements – bread or crackers, juice or water.

We are still in chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles. Last week we heard about the persecution that had basically begun immediately after Stephen’s stoning. We also looked at how Philip the Evangelist, who had been chosen as one of “the seven,” as a result of the persecution, left Jerusalem and traveled to Samaria. This was the beginning of the witness “to the ends of the earth” found in Acts 1:8.

On the one hand Samaria was truly one of the most unlikely places for a disciple to go, due to the bad blood between the Jews and Samaritans. Because as far as the Jews were concerned the Samaritans were half-breeds. And yet it makes perfect sense for a disciple to travel there to spread the gospel, as Shechem is a city in Samaria – it’s the city God led Abram to and it’s where Jacob’s well was located. It’s where God said to Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land.” Not to mention, Jacob’s well is where Jesus first announced himself as the Messiah to the woman at the well in John chapter four. Do you see the connection there?

Nevertheless, Philip who was full of God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit was performing great signs and wonders, including casting out demons. Additionally, he was also a powerful speaker, as many crowds in Samaria listened to his pronouncement of the gospel of Jesus Christ and were baptized as a result. He was so successful that Peter and John both traveled there to investigate.

Now we are going to pick up in the last half of the chapter verses 26-40 from the NIV translation.

“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.”

This is the Word of God for the people of God – thanks be to God.

Let us pray……

Remember we just learned that Philip is having tremendous success in his evangelistic ministry for the Lord – great crowds of people have heard him preach the good news of the gospel, which resulted in many baptisms. How wonderful! I don’t know about you, but if that was me, I’m sure I would be feeling pretty darn good about what was being accomplished for God! I mean how could you not? Most of us would be hard pressed not to experience at least a tinsy bit of pride under those circumstances. However, based on what we know about Philip, I don’t think he was prideful at all. I’m thinking, he understood everything that was happening came through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And then all of a sudden one day Philip hears from an angel of the Lord. Little does Philip know that God has arranged a divine appointment for him. He’s told to go south to the desert road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza. Now initially it might seem like God is demoting Philip because he was having such great success bringing people to God and yet God has called him away from this amazing ministry. Instead, Philip crosses paths with an Ethiopian – one single solitary man – who he was going to explain the gospel to. What?! I mean why??

Putting myself in Philip’s shoes, I probably wouldn’t be very happy in that situation. Being called away right smack dab in the middle of a successful ministry for the Lord. And by success I mean measured as people becoming disciples for the Lord Jesus Christ. But here is where we get into trouble – when we question God. He knows what is bestHe has a plan that is unsurpassable! And clearly God knew exactly what He was doing in this situation as He was leading the spread of the gospel to an entirely new continent.

The Ethiopian man, who by the way, was a man of significant position, was clearly a God-fearing man. How do we know this? Because he had traveled all the way from his home, and we are talking 2600 miles, as Ethiopia is located in East Africa, south of Egypt, to Jerusalem to worship God. And this Ethiopian, in his love for God, would listen, believe, and in turn, spread the gospel to the power structure of another government and other lands. So as persecution happens and disciples scatter, the church enters the process of becoming more culturally diverse – it now includes Samaritans who were considered half-Jews, and black people in Ethiopia.

But one striking consideration for us when looking at these scriptures, and something we simply cannot miss, is the fact that Philip immediately obeyed the angel of God when prompted to travel on that desert road. Immediately! He did not stop and question God in any way whatsoever. He simply went. Had he not, he would have missed the divine appointment God had arranged just for him. I wonder how many divine appointments I’ve missed because I did not obey immediately?!

He also followed the next prompt from the Holy Spirit and approached the Ethiopian’s chariot and stayed with it as told. And once again, it was an immediate response. When Philip caught up with the chariot he heard the man reading from the Book of Isaiah. It was customary at that time to read aloud. Then he asked the Ethiopian a simple question. Do you understand what you are reading?

The man replied no and asked Philip to explain the passage to him. He was curious to know who the passage was actually talking about. This Old Testament passage from Isaiah is one of the Suffering Servant passages and has been seen as an ideal starting place to share the gospel. Which is exactly what Philip did. He started from the Old Testament passage where the man had been reading and then explained how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies.

Next they come across a body of water. Really? In the desert? Enough water for someone to be immersed in? But indeed it was and so the Ethiopian asked to be baptized. Baptism was a sign of identification with Christ and with the Christian community. Although Philip was the only witness to this man’s baptism, it was still important for him to take this step.

As the man rises up out of the water, however Philip is spirited away and suddenly transported to a different city. Again we are not sure why. But perhaps this miracle signifies the urgency of bringing the Gentiles to belief in Christ. Philip is taken to Caesarea where he remains for the next 20 years.

Now please understand it was no coincidence that this Ethiopian was reading that particular passage at that particular time! Because if we look closely weaving its way through this account is what may be its most important theme – namely evidence of divine choreography. We see this evidence in the following scriptures: an angel of the Lord, the pilgrimage of an Ethiopian to worship in Jerusalem, the opportunistic meeting on a deserted road at midday, the Spirit said, the presence of water in the desert, and finally Philip’s disappearance. Luke bathes this scene in testimony to divine intervention in order to show that the movement of the gospel to the “ends of the earth” was and is divinely sanctioned. Just as the birth, death and resurrection of Christ was divinely sanctioned. God knew from the beginning that He would send His Son to earth to offer reconciliation in His Name. The sacrifice made on our behalf was of immense proportion and we are so incredibly blessed because we said yes to the Lord’s offer of salvation. We are blessed because through the sacrament of Holy Communion we are offered a divine remembrance of this sacrifice. We are blessed because we have the opportunity to reflect on our sins, to move closer to Him and each other.

We are blessed because Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another. Therefore, let us confess our sin silently before God.

Hear the good news: Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; that proves God’s love toward us. Therefore, in the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven! What an amazing gift – thank you Jesus.

On the night in which he gave himself up for us he took bread, gave thanks to the Father, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.

When the supper was over, he took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples and said drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

Our out your Holy Spirit upon us gathered in our homes, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.

By your Spirit, make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet. Through your son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy church, all honor and glory is yours almighty Father now and forever. Amen.

The body of Christ broken for you because he loves you so very much. The blood of Christ shed for you because he wants to spend eternity with you. Amen.

Let us pray…..

Gracious and Loving God. We love because you first loved us. We have come to you, because you first came to us. We have relationship with you because of your sacrifice. Help us to be as obedient as Philip the evangelist and Jesus Christ your Son. May we hear your voice, listen to your voice, and obey your voice immediately. May we read your Word and do the same. May we step out in boldness, assured of your goodness, fulfilling your purpose for our lives. We long to hear the words “Well done good and faithful servant” when we return home to be with you forever. Brothers and sisters now let us pray with confidence the words our Lord and Savior Jesus taught us:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory now and forever. And all of God’s people said, amen.

Blessings,

Pastor Cathy