Journey through Acts- 8:1-8,14-17

Good morning church family! We are entering chapter eight this week in the Acts of the Apostles and will spend two weeks on this chapter. But first, as I usually do, let me recap for you what has been going on. Stephen, one of “the seven” enters into an argument with some men from the Synagogue of the Freedman. They don’t like what he says so they arranged for someone to bear false witness against him. Keep in mind, you shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor, is one of the 10 Commandments, but these men obviously didn’t care. They were supposedly concerned with Mosaic Law as one of the charges brought against Stephen was related to it, but apparently had no care for obeying it, which means they had no care for obeying God’s law.

Thus, they have him arrested. Chapter seven provides insight into what exactly Stephen said to these men and why they became so angry. Stephen simply calls it like it is. He tells the truth. He accuses them of resisting the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives. And then he accuses them of killing the author of all life – Jesus Christ – the Righteous One – thus, no small accusations.

Of course, none of us enjoy being confronted with our sinful behavior. Well-known preacher Charles Spurgeon was quoted as saying, “Many are troubled because the gospel interferes with their sin.” And so too, were these Freedmen. They allowed their discomfort with Stephen’s truth telling to escalate within literally to a point of rage. They became so angry that they drug Stephen out of the city and stoned him. Now this is taking defensiveness to a whole new level! Finally, at the end of last week’s message we discussed the similarities between Stephen and Jesus as they relate to their respective deaths and burials.

Now here is the point in the story where the disciples truly begin to scatter and particularly the Greek disciples. The fact that the apostles were not the focus of the persecution at this time and that it came about immediately after Stephen’s death, suggest that the persecution focused primarily on the Hellenistic Jewish Christians; although the entire church was affected. If you recall, Stephen was a Hellenist. Now let’s move forward and read today’s scripture passages, starting in 8:1-8, and then additionally verses 14-17. I am reading from the New Living Translation.

“A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning). But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.

But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah. Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear this message and see the miraculous signs he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted God’s message, they sent Peter and John there. As soon as they arrived, they prayed for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

So we hear about the persecution sweeping over the church and that Saul, as lead persecutor, was going into the homes of people and dragging them out to throw them in jail. Consequently, out of fear many of the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. Thus, we begin to see the fulfillment of the second part of Jesus’ final command identified in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Now we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the disciples went to Samaria. We don’t want to miss this. So why was it such a big deal?

Israel had been divided into three main regions: Galilee in the north, Samaria in the middle and Judea in the south. The city of Samaria had been the capitol of the northern kingdom of Israel in the days of the divided kingdom, before it was conquered by Assyria in 722 BC. During that war, the Assyrian king had taken many captives, leaving only the poorest of people in the land and resettling it with foreigners. These foreigners had intermarried with the Jews who were left, and the mixed race became known as Samaritans.

The Samaritans were considered “half-breeds” by the “pure” Jews in the southern kingdom of Judah and the two groups hated each other intensely. But remember, Jesus himself went into Samaria when He met with the woman at the well in John chapter four and He stayed there for two days thereafter. He had commanded His followers to spread the gospel there. And Paul tells us in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Thus, ministry here was a significant step for the church, for it indicated biases had no place in Christianity. God wants all to come to the saving knowledge of His amazing grace. Consequently, persecution had forced the believers out of their homes in Jerusalem, and along with them went the gospel.

Next, we hear about Philip who has already been introduced to us in Acts 6:3 as a person “of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” He too had been chosen as one of “the seven” as had Stephen. So obviously, this is not the apostle Philip, but rather Philip the evangelist who was the primary disciple in Samaria. And like Jesus, the apostles, and Stephen, he performed many miraculous signs and wonders including casting out demons.

Philip was also a powerful speaker. On top of his healing ministry, He was preaching successfully to great crowds in Samaria. His message was so well received Peter and John heard about it back in Jerusalem and went to check it out. The Jerusalem church thought it was important to assume the responsibility of inspecting new evangelistic efforts and the communities they produced. I think sometimes we get upset with the UMC district and conference in general, but they hold an important purpose. Authority in general in the church holds an important purpose. I’ve often heard it said if we struggle with authority in general, we most likely struggle under the authority of Christ and obeying Him. Ouch! That’s a big ouch for me!

Keep in mind, up until this point the only Christians were Jews. So not until chapter 10 in this book are the apostles completely convinced that the Holy Spirit is also for half-Jews – the Samaritans, and non-Jews – the Gentiles. When Peter and John arrived in Samaria they discovered that those who had been baptized had not yet received the Holy Spirit. Scholars really aren’t sure why.

I read that many scholars believe God chose to give this dramatic filling of His Spirit as a sign at this special moment in history – the spread of the gospel into Samaria through the powerful and effective preaching of Philip. Normally the Holy Spirit enters into a person’s life at conversion. However, this was a special event. Others speculate that God withheld the Holy Spirit from the Samaritans so the apostles could come and witness that even they were included in the Christian community. Still others wonder if it was God’s plan to ensure that new believers received trustworthy instructors and to connect with God’s chosen apostolic leaders. Whatever the case may be, it will most likely remain a mystery. However, once Peter and John lay hands on the new believers from Samaria they receive the Holy Spirit and His power. Just as you and I have received the Holy Spirit and His power, as well as all believers! The question is what are you doing with the Holy Spirit’s power that resides within you?

I’d like to close by reading a devotion from Max Lucado. You may have heard it before but it is very powerful. It’s called The Cave People from his book A Gentle Thunder (1995).

He came to the world that was his own, but his own people did not accept him. John 1:11
LONG AGO, OR maybe not so long ago, there was a tribe in a dark, cold cavern. The cave dwellers would huddle together and cry against the chill. Loud and long they wailed. It was all they did. It was all they knew to do. The sounds in the cave were mournful, but the people didn’t know it, for they had never known joy. The spirit in the cave was death, but the people didn’t know it, for they had never known life.

But then, one day, they heard a different voice. “I have heard your cries,” it announced. “I have felt your chill and seen your darkness. I have come to help.” The cave people grew quiet. They had never heard this voice. Hope sounded strange to their ears. “How can we know you have come to help?”

“Trust me,” he answered. “I have what you need.” The cave people peered through the darkness at the figure of the stranger. He was stacking something, then stooping and stacking more.

“What are you doing?” one cried, nervous. The stranger didn’t answer. “What are you making?” one shouted even louder. Still no response. “Tell us!” demanded a third. The visitor stood and spoke in the direction of the voices. “I have what you need.” With that he turned to the pile at his feet and lit it. Wood ignited, flames erupted, and light filled the cavern.

The cave people turned away in fear. “Put it out!” they cried. “It hurts to see it.” “Light always hurts before it helps,” he answered. “Step closer. The pain will soon pass.” “Not I,” declared a voice. “Nor I,” agreed a second. “Only a fool would risk exposing his eyes to such light.”

The stranger stood next to the fire. “Would you prefer the darkness? Would you prefer the cold? Don’t consult your fears. Take a step of faith.” For a long time no one spoke. The people hovered in groups covering their eyes. The fire builder stood next to the fire. “It’s warm here,” he invited.

“He’s right,” one from behind him announced. “It’s warmer.” The stranger turned and saw a figure slowly stepping toward the fire. “I can open my eyes now,” she proclaimed. “I can see.” “Come closer,” invited the fire builder. She did. She stepped into the ring of light. “It’s so warm!” She extended her hands and sighed as her chill began to pass.

“Come, everyone! Feel the warmth,” she invited. “Silence, woman!” cried one of the cave dwellers. “Dare you lead us into your folly? Leave us. Leave us and take your light with you.” She turned to the stranger. “Why won’t they come?” “They choose the chill, for though it’s cold, it’s what they know. They’d rather be cold than change.” “And live in the dark?” “And live in the dark.”

The now-warm woman stood silent. Looking first at the dark, then at the man.
“Will you leave the fire?” he asked. She paused, then answered, “I cannot. I cannot bear the cold.” Then she spoke again. “But nor can I bear the thought of my people in darkness.”

“You don’t have to,” he responded, reaching into the fire and removing a stick. “Carry this to your people. Tell them the light is here, and the light is warm. Tell them the light is for all who desire it.” And so she took the small flame and stepped into the shadows.

Are you a light barer? Are you carrying the torch for Christ? Let us pray……

Almighty God You alone are holy and You alone are our Lord! We praise You, worship You and offer up our thanksgiving for Who You are! You are the great physician and the great healer. You mend our broken hearts and souls. Please be with all of our families who are in mourning, who are in crisis, who are healing from physical wounds and problems and who are lonely. May they feel Your presence, peace and love.

Now let us pray 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 forever. Amen.Jesus loves you and so do I! Have a great week! Shine His light! Share His love! Spread His joy! 

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts-Chapter 7:51-60

Good morning church family! Unfortunately I do want to mention that we lost both Bob Severt and Joanne Edmiston this past week. Please be sure and keep their families in your thoughts and prayers as they begin the process of mourning their loved ones.

This morning we are going to look at chapter seven in Acts which is a long chapter, so we are looking primarily at the end of it. Thus, if you haven’t read the whole chapter, I highly encourage you to do so. To briefly recap chapter six, we learned about the disciple Stephen who was one of the seven chosen to distribute food among the Jews. The job had become too much for the twelve apostles whose primary concern was to preach and to pray. Consequently, it was decided to choose seven Godly men who were then elected to serve basically as the first deacons. 

Now we are told that Stephen was a man full of the Holy Spirit, and because he allowed the Holy Spirit to dwell within, he was truly a powerful earthen vessel used by God. And at the end of chapter six we learn he was arguing with various other Jews who were members of the Freedmen’s synagogue and because they didn’t like what he had to say and they were unable to argue against his logic, they found some men to provide false testimony against him. He was charged with making false claims against both the temple and mosaic law, then they had him arrested.

Which takes us to chapter seven. The beginning and middle of the chapter is Stephen’s speech or defense to the Sanhedrin, also known as the Jewish Council. It’s a partial summary of the Jews own history that we learn about in our reading of the Old Testament. Stephen recited how God had been at work from earliest times with His chosen people.

Yet, his recounting of their history is highly selective. The summary starts with Abraham, and Stephen then meanders down through Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and David, spending a lot of time focused on Moses. If you remember, the Israelites initially questioned Moses as their ruler. Perhaps Stephen brought Moses up to such degree to provoke reconsideration of Israel’s assessment and rejection of Jesus. They had been wrong about Moses. Might they have been wrong about Jesus too?

Thus, when you look closely at his speech you will notice he focuses on the rejection of God’s chosen instruments – Joseph, Moses and His Old Testament prophets; ultimately ending with their rejection of the “Righteous One” – Jesus Christ Himself. And that’s where we are going to begin our scripture passage for the day, verses 51-60.

“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him – you have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Look, he said, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Then he fell on his knees and cried out, Lord, do not hold this sin against them. When he said this, he fell asleep.”

Stephen’s authenticity was called into question because the ideas he expressed about the temple – that God was not confined to a single spot was a problem for them. Though God doesn’t dwell in sanctuaries made with hands, He allowed a house to be built for Him by Solomon. Why? Because God accommodates Himself for us in order to make relationship with Him possible! Let’s praise Him for that! The Alpha and the Omega, the One and Only God, the Almighty One, desires a personal relationship with us!! And He offers it to us through His amazing grace and the sacrifice made by Christ! Thank You Jesus!

So, how does Stephen respond to the high priest’s question at the very beginning of chapter seven, “Are these charges true?” He turns the charges made against him back onto the Jewish Council. Stephen’s words would either raise the ire of his audience or break their hearts, leading to repentance. The Old Testament prophets had delivered messages exactly like Stephen’s. And so too, did Christ. Jesus confronted the Pharisees often during His ministry on earth because He saw right through the Jewish Council and the teachers of the law. The entire chapter of Matthew 23 is an indictment against them. He starts each indictment with Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Here are just a few of those verses 25-28.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup,[f ] so that the outside also may become clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

So, as we’ve been studying Acts, we’ve witnessed Peter and now Stephen do the very same thing as the Old Testament prophets and Jesus – confront the Pharisees and the teachers of the law with their sinful behavior. And just as Jesus did not mince words, neither has Peter or Stephen. Rather, Stephen clearly identifies the Sanhedrin as opponents of God’s agenda, rather than as Godly men.

How did they react to Stephen’s words? They expressed extreme displeasure both inwardly (enraged in their hearts) and outwardly (gnashed their teeth at him). Remember, they considered themselves to be Israel’s religious leaders, pious men of God and yet Stephen charged them with deep spiritual corruption. And that absolutely infuriated them! They literally become enraged and rushed him, drug him out of the city and stoned him to death.

Keep in mind, the Romans allowed the Jewish leaders to maintain the sanctity of the temple area, but not carry out the death penalty. Which is why Jesus was taken to Pilot, a Roman official for trail. In this instance however, they were so enraged they did not stop and think about what they were doing. Instead they acted on pure impulse. And this wild, crazy mob illegally killed Stephen, while a young man named Saul looked on. It’s been disputed whether or not Saul was a member of the Sanhedrin at that time, or just a young rabbinic student who was zealous for traditional Jewish faith. But whether he was formally involved with the Sanhedrin or not, he “agreed” with the decision to stone Stephen.

Both of Stephen’s requests are quite remarkable. His first, Lord Jesus receive my spirit proclaims that Jesus is judge and savior. His 2nd request that God not charge his executioners with sin illustrates his non-vindictive spirit of one who understands that his own sins have been forgiven by grace.

Although Jesus was executed by crucifixion and Stephen through stoning, the parallels between their death and burial scenes are strong. This positions Stephen with the “Righteous One,” as well as the prophets, Moses, and Joseph; their status before God was not canceled by their human rejection. We need to remember that it does not matter what other people think of us. What matters is what God thinks of us – and only Him. Rejection is a wound that every human experiences at one time or another and it is a very painful wound. But the wonderful news is that when we turn to God, He NEVER rejects us. Rather, He welcomes us with open arms!!

In comparing Jesus and Stephen, we see they were highly passionate men in which leadership was understood as “service.” They were both full of the Holy Spirit, thus accordingly, produced great signs and wonders. At their respective deaths we hear they were both taken out of Jerusalem, the heavens opened, the Son of Man was at the right hand of God, both cried out committing their spirits to the Father, and both through prayer pled for the forgiveness of their executioners. We are told of their death, that they were buried by those who were righteous and devout, and that they were mourned by others.

Stephen’s vision of the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand is a strong vindication of Stephen and his message, since it identifies Stephen with Jesus’ vindication, as well as displays God’s residence in heaven rather than in the temple as the Jews believed.

Are you aware that Jesus was the only one who called Himself the Son of Man and He does so frequently throughout the New Testament, except when people were quoting His Words and in this verse when He is called such by Stephen?

Also, when Stephen exposes their corruption and accuses the Sanhedrin of betraying and murdering God’s Son, Stephen has a vision of Jesus standing. Every time in scripture when we hear that the Son of Man is at the right hand of the Father, He is sitting, except in this instance – He is standing. There are about 16 New Testament references to Jesus or the Son of Man being at God’s right hand. Acts 7:55-56 is unique in describing the Son of Man as standing (twice), four verses describe him simply as “at” God’s right hand (Acts 2:33, 5:31; Rom.8:34; and 1Pet.3:22), and the remainder describe him as seated (Mt.26:64; Mk.14:62, 16:19; Lk.22:69; Acts 2:34; Eph.1:20; Col.3:1; Heb.1:3, 8:1, 10:12, and 12:2).We don’t know why as the text does not explain the significance. But perhaps it parallels Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin; where he once stood accused, he now stands vindicated. Or, more typically, scholars see in Stephen’s vision a picture of the Savior standing beside those who testify on his behalf, or perhaps the Good Shepherd greeting the soon-to-be-martyred saint. I don’t know about you, but I would love to think of Jesus standing to welcome me home as He did Stephen. So that I can run into His arms and hold Him tight! Let us pray:
Holy God, we pray for the Severt and Edmiston families and all those who are mourning the loss of a loved one. We pray for those who are in pain of any nature — whether physical, emotional or spiritual. We ask for Your healing and wholeness for each one of us. We praise You that You are a God who loves us so much You do wish to bring us healing. We know that the word salvation means to save, help in distress, rescue, deliver, and set free. And that scripture also uses the word salvation to denote health, well-being and healing. Thus, when we receive Your awesome gift of salvation then at least some healing comes along with it. You don’t always heal us of every wound and pain, but often You offer us some degree of healing if we reach out and take it. Thank You Father for loving us so much that You sent Your Son Jesus. Thank You for helping us to become more like Him and to live for Him! 
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.
God bless you all. Remember Jesus loves you and so do I!

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts – Chapter 6

Good morning church family! This week we are finishing up chapter 6 in the Acts of the Apostles and we are also going to learn about the disciple Stephen. Last week we discussed how the number of disciples was increasing rapidly through the apostles’ bold preaching about God. Keep in mind, long before the violent persecution broke out against Christians, which we are about to witness in the next chapter, social ostracism was occurring.

Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah, who we call Messianic Jews, were usually cut off from their families. And as was mentioned before, this resulted in the believers depending upon each other for support. The sharing of homes, food and resources was both a practical and necessary mark of the early church. As an aside, I just want to point out here, that the early church did not rely on the government for assistance, they relied on the church for assistance.

Eventually the continued growth of the church made it necessary to organize the sharing as people were being overlooked in the distribution process. We learned while the church consisted of all Jews at this point, there were two types of Jews – the Hellenists and the Hebraic. And the Hellenists were the ones who felt they were being left out and so registered a complaint.

In the problem-solving process, the apostles determined that prayer and preaching were their primary duties so someone else needed to handle the distribution of food. Seven men were elected to handle this new role which could be considered the role of a deacon. As such, we begin the witness of different roles being established among the disciples based on natural and spiritual gifts.

Let’s move on to verses 8-15 in chapter six. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen.But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

 So, they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Let’s pray……

Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Up until this point in Acts, only the apostles are reported as having worked miraculous signs and we see that in Acts 2:43; 3:4-5; and 5:12. But now, after the laying on of the apostle’s hands, Stephen too is reported as working miraculous signs. Philip the evangelist will also do so. We’ll learn more about him a little later in our study.

The freedmen mentioned in this passage are persons who had been freed from slavery. Unfortunately, slavery has existed for thousands of years and continues to exist even to this day. We’ve been hearing a lot lately about a global human/child trafficking ring. It is estimated that worldwide today there are between 20 million and 40 million people in modern day slavery. It is a $150 billion a year business, $99 billion of which comes from commercial sexual exploitation – yes, you heard me correctly. That is more than the sports and music industry combined!! Globally, an estimated 71% of enslaved people are women and girls, while men and boys account for 29%. I can only imagine how God feels about that!

According to our history books slavery ended in the United States more than 150 years ago with the conclusion of the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Although these events ended the open selling of human beings, according to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, two thousand children go missing every single day in the U.S. alone. That’s 800,000 children vanishing every year. Not to mention that since the onset of Covid the number of exploited children has increased by 30%.

Church family, children, yes, our precious children, at the average age of 13, are being bought and sold for sex, right here and right now in the U.S. It pains me greatly to say that the U.S., a country that we would like to think of as being highly civilized and a Christian nation is the number one producer and consumer of child pornography.  

Not to mention that Ohio is right smack dab in the thick of this. According to the Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition, human trafficking is going strong in our state. Shockingly, the FBI has identified Toledo as “the top U.S. recruitment city for trafficking children into the sex industry.” Toledo! Just a hop, skip and a jump away from us. This is evil at work, pure and simple. Please don’t turn your back on this situation. I know we don’t even want to think about these truths, but our kids need us! Please pray for them! Please get involved in any way you can.

Now back to Acts – the freedmen were from many different Hellenistic areas. Cyrene was the chief city in Libya and North Africa. Alexandria was the capitol of Egypt, and 2nd only to Rome in the Empire. Two out of five districts in Alexandria were Jewish. Cilicia was a Roman province in the southeast corner of Asia Minor adjourning Syria. Tarsus, the birthplace of the apostle Paul, who is about to enter the picture in Acts, was one of it’s principal towns. The men arguing with Stephen were from several different locales.

However, aside from being a good administrator Stephen was also a powerful speaker. When confronted in the temple by the various groups Stephen’s logic in responding was convincing. This is clear from the defense he made in front of the Sanhedrin. Now we are going to hear his speech and his defense in chapter seven.

But just to give you an idea, he presented a summary of the Jews own history and made powerful applications that stung his listeners. During his defense, I wonder if Stephen realized he was speaking his own death sentence.

There were two charges made against Stephen. Speech against the temple and speech against Mosaic law. Regarding speech against the temple, he basically declared that the worship of God was no longer to be restricted to the temple as Jesus himself told the woman at the well in John 4:21-24. Jesus says, “Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, (in other words, heart and mind), for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

As far as speech against Mosiac law, this would have aroused resentment among those who revered Moses as the Sadducees did. If you recall, the Sadducees were very strong supporters of Moses. They refused to read any scripture beyond the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, which were written by Moses. So, in their mind, to go against Moses was a big deal. And remember the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council, was comprised of Sadducees.

The bottom line is members of the council could not stand to have their own evil motives exposed. So, they twisted Stephen’s words to make an accusation against him. They charged him with attacking the temple, the law, Moses and, ultimately God. We know the accusation was bogus because they produced false witnesses to sustain the charges against him.

Before we end, let’s consider these passages regarding Stephen. They choose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. And finally, our passage ends with this verse: All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Clearly Stephen was a vessel of the Holy Spirit. He allowed the Holy Spirit to dwell within him. He listened to and obeyed the Holy Spirit. And because he did so, he was powerful in word and deed for the limited amount of time he served the Lord.

Stephen’s life is a continual challenge to all Christians. Because he was the first to die for the faith, as we will hear in chapter seven, his sacrifice raises important questions. How many risks do we take as followers of Jesus? Do we even take any risks at all? Would we be willing to die for Him? If we lived in China right now, and we were being tortured because of our belief in Christ, would we give in to our torturers or would we stand strong in the faith? I know that’s a very difficult question to answer, because unless we are in that position, we really don’t know how we would respond. I do know that most, if not all of us, hope that we would stay true to our Savior.

But perhaps the more pertinent question we should ask ourselves is: Are we really willing to live for Christ?

Let us pray: Holy Spirit we come to you this morning and ask that you would dwell within each one of us. Help us to hear Your voice, to listen and to obey You in word and deed. May we live and move and have our being in Your power today and always.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 forever. And all of God’s people said: Amen.Have a terrific week! Jesus loves you and so do I!

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts – Chapter 5

Good morning church family! This week we are starting on chapter 6 in the Acts of the Apostles. Last week we discussed the story of Ananias and Sapphira and the harsh penalty they paid for lying to the church, which was, lying to God. We noted that ultimately, any sin is a sin against God. Also, that Satan is always our enemy, yes, he uses people to sin against us, but he is always the enemy. Finally, we discussed how we have a habit of ranking and comparing sin.

Now it’s never easy to talk about sin. We all like to think we are good people, (and that includes me), that we don’t sin often, and when we do, it’s not that bad of a sin. But the truth is the Bible tells us that we are all sinners, and we have all, like sheep, gone astray. Sin is intolerable in God’s eyes because He is a Holy and Perfect God! He is also a just, merciful, and loving God.

Because He is holy and perfect, He simply cannot tolerate sin – any kind of sin, from murder all the way down to whatever we might consider the least sin. Because He is just, sin requires punishment. However, because He is merciful and loving, He sent Jesus to pay the price for the punishment we all deserve for those who choose to have faith in Him. And this church family is God’s amazing grace at work. If we weren’t sinners, God’s grace would not be necessary! The horrendous suffering and sacrifice made by Jesus when He died on the cross would not be necessary. So, let’s try and keep that in mind when we think about sin. It is a big deal to God; however, God also made a way for us through His amazing grace. He gives us the choice to have faith in Him. We choose – will we follow Him? Will we live for Him or will we live for ourselves?

At the root of sin – at its very foundation – is the simple matter of “me, myself and I.” We want to run the show. We want to direct and control our lives. Rather than live for Christ, which is what Christians are called to do, we prefer to live for ourselves. Personally, this has been a real struggle for me. I am pretty darn self-centered in nature. How about you?? Is it a struggle for you too? I sure hope I’m not the only one who has a problem with this!

Now let’s move on to chapter 6 verses 1-7 from the NLT. “But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.

So, the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.

Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith). These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.

So, God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted too.”

Let us pray…..

And with this verse, the first major section of Acts has come to completion. Keep in mind, some time may have elapsed since the end of chapter five. The number of disciples was increasing rapidly through the apostles’ bold preaching about God. Even a large group of priests became followers of Christ. Luke doesn’t tell us who the priests were, but they were probably those who performed duties in connection with worship at the temple. Doing so would have put them logistically in a great position to hear the apostles preach on a regular basis.

The continued growth of the church, however, gave rise to inevitable problems. And brothers and sisters, all churches have problems. There is simply no perfect church! Why? Because the church is made up of imperfect, broken people! Not to mention, Satan does his darnedest to wreak havoc. The last thing he wants is a church fully focused on the mission of Christ – which we learned back in 1:8 of this book. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” To put it simply, making disciples!! Oh no, Satan would much rather create division and disunity; and have everyone focused on anything but God’s mission! However, I think it is helpful to know that even the early church, filled with the apostles and many disciples who walked with Christ, was not perfect.

And just like today, some of the problems with the early church were external (primarily the persecution that had begun) and some were internal or within the church. In this case, we have an internal problem that has occurred between the Hebraic and Hellenistic Jews. 

Keep in mind, that at this point in time, the church was comprised of all Jews. However, there were two groups of Jews within the fellowship. First, we have the Grecian Jews, also called Hellenists, who were those born in lands other than the Holy Land who spoke the Greek language and were more Grecian than Hebraic in their attitudes and outlook. Second, we have the Hebraic Jews, those who spoke Palestinian Aramaic and/or Hebrew and preserved Jewish culture and customs.

The Hellenists believed that their widows were being neglected in the church’s charity distribution in comparison to the widows who were Hebraic. (If you recall, we’ve heard twice now in Acts chapter two and four with it continuing into chapter five that everyone shared everything they had which included their food and land). Now most likely this favoritism was not intentional. It could have been the result of the language barrier, or the logistical challenge posed by the rapid addition of Hellenistic Jews.

At this early stage of the church, the twelve apostles were responsible for church life in general: including the ministry of the Word of God and the care of the needy. So right from the start yes, they are concerned about spiritual growth, but also that the basic material needs of their church members were being met. Nevertheless, apparently the existing church structure proved unable to keep up with the growing demands. Consequently, it was time for a change. So, how did the apostles solve the problem?

First the apostles determined that prayer and preaching were their primary duties. It wasn’t that the other role was not important; they simply believed they needed to continue doing what God had called them to do. Thus, it was imperative that they have help distributing the food and taking care of the physical needs of the church members. So, now we have two distinct roles in the early church with varying responsibilities. And when you consider the requirements of the seven men to step into this separate role (having a good reputation, being full of the Spirit and full of wisdom) it signaled the importance of all roles in Christian service.

These seven men could be considered the first deacons in the church. The Greek word used to describe their responsibility (“wait on”) is the verb from which the noun “deacon” comes. The Greek noun for “deacon” can also be translated “minister” or “servant.” The men appointed on this occasion were simply called “the Seven,” just as the apostles were called “the Twelve.” They became responsible for the practical needs of the congregation. Since all seven men were Hellenistic Jews, (their Greek names identify them most likely as such), the twelve were thereby assuring that the needs of the Hellenistic Jews were represented fairly.

The men were then set apart for their service through prayer and the laying on of hands by the apostles. Laying on of hands was used in the OT period to confer blessing, to transfer guilt from sinner to sacrifice and to commission a person for a new responsibility. In the NT period, laying on of hands was observed in healing, blessing, ordaining or commissioning, and imparting of spiritual gifts. Indeed, the laying on of hands occurs in several contexts in Acts alone (8:17; 13:3; 19:6). Here, as in 13:3, it indicated the church’s recognition that God had called these people to a particular ministry.

If you love the Lord, you are His disciple. Every disciple has an important role to play. A piece of the puzzle that you alone represent. If you don’t fill your role, the puzzle will not be complete. It is imperative that you fulfill the role God has created just for you. Yes, YOU!

Many times, people struggle to figure out what their role is – what their God-given purpose is. There is a very helpful acronym by Pastor Rick Warren that some of you may have heard about. It is very helpful to assist you in determining your SHAPE.

S stands for your spiritual gifts. When you choose to follow Christ you were filled with the Holy Spirit, and you were given at least one, if not more, spiritual gift/s. With His grace comes His gifts. There are many spiritual tests you can take online to determine your spiritual gift/s if you don’t know what they are.

H stands for heart. What do you love to do? What are you passionate about? Your passion could manifest through great joy, or great anguish. But nevertheless, you are passionate about the topic.

A stands for abilities. What are your natural gifts and inclinations? Do you bake really well? Are you good with numbers? Do you have a beautiful voice, or play a musical instrument?

P stands for personality. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you abhor change or are you comfortable with it? Are you someone who is always on time, or late?

E stands for your experiences. This includes your vocational, family, educational, spiritual, and most importantly, your painful experiences. Yes, your painful experiences!

When it comes to shaping who you are, of all the items listed above, your painful experiences have the greatest impact. Please understand God never ever wastes a hurt! That which has hurt you the most, God wants to take and use it for good. Remember Romans 8:28? “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” He will use your pain in some form of service to help others.

When you understand your shape, you will know what God has created you specifically to do. Yes, church family; He has a profound purpose for your life! And never fear, when we work and serve within our gifting, God empowers and gives us everything we need to do what He created and calls us to do. I’d like to end by sharing this devotion from Max Lucado I read this past Thursday as it fits beautifully with the message!

Your Place in God’s Band by Max Lucado

Two of my teenage years were spent carrying a tuba in my high school marching band. My mom wanted me to learn to read music, and the choir was full while the band was a tuba-tooter short, so I signed up. Not necessarily what you would describe as a call from God, but it wasn’t a wasted experience either.

I had a date with a twirler. I learned to paint white shoe polish on school buses. And I learned some facts about harmony that I’ll pass on to you.

I marched next to the bass-drum player. What a great sound. Boom. Boom. Boom. Deep, cavernous, thundering. And at the end of my flank marched the flute section. Oh, how their music soared. Whispering, lifting, rising into the clouds. Ahead of me, at the front of my line, was our first-chair trumpet. He could raise the spirit. He could raise the flag. He could have raised the roof on the stadium if we’d had one.

The soft flute needs the brash trumpet needs the steady drum needs the soft flute needs the brash trumpet. Get the idea? The operative word is need. They need each other. By themselves they make music. But together, they make magic.

Now, what I saw two decades ago in the band, I see today in the church. We need each other. Not all of us play the same instrument. Some believers are lofty, and others are solid. Some keep the pace while others lead the band. Not all of us make the same sound. Some are soft, and others are loud. And not all of us have the same ability. But each of us has a place. Some play the drums (like Martha). Some play the flute (like Mary). And others sound the trumpet (like Lazarus).

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were like family to Jesus. After the Lord raised Lazarus from the dead, they decided to give a dinner for Jesus. They decided to honor him by having a party on his behalf (see John 12:2).

They didn’t argue over the best seat. They didn’t resent each other’s abilities. They didn’t try to outdo each other. All three worked together with one purpose. But each one fulfilled that purpose in his or her unique manner. Martha served; she always kept everyone in step. Mary worshiped; she anointedHow and Why Are People Anointed? The Uses of Anointing OilsAnointing is a common practice found in the Bible and modern Christianity. Discover how and why people are anoin…her Lord with an extravagant gift, and its aroma filled the air. Lazarus had a story to tell, and he was ready to tell it.

Let us pray. Holy God, we praise You for Your wonderful qualities! We praise You for Your amazing grace and the ultimate sacrifice that was made by Christ on our behalf. Thank you for allowing us to play a role in Your mission to make disciples around the world. It truly is a blessing, privilege, and honor for us to participate! Thank You for the gift You bestowed upon each one of us and please help us use it. 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 forever. And all of God’s people said Amen. 

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts-Chapter 5

Good morning church family! Before we begin, I wanted to let you know that even though Clark County has dropped back down to level 2 – the orange level, we are not going to begin conducting services back in our church building at this time. With the fairs going on and Dr. Fauci’s concern with the state of Ohio, we feel it would be best to stay closed. We will continue to monitor the situation carefully.

As I’ve mentioned before, we need to remain fluid and flexible during these very unsettling times. Thank you for your patience. I know there are mixed feelings among you, whether we should be open, whether we should be closed, and I understand and respect that. So please hold me and those making the decisions in prayer, as well as all of your leadership team. And as I mentioned last week, I will still be in the office on Wednesdays.

Finally, just a quick reminder that today is communion Sunday so please make sure you have some bread and juice or crackers so you can participate at the end of this message.

This week we are starting on chapter 5 in the Acts of the Apostles. Last week we briefly discussed Peter’s second sermon which he gave immediately after his healing of the lame man. Peter realized he had a captive audience due to the healing that had just occurred so he thought it would be a great time once again to share the gospel with all those who had gathered around. We learned that this resulted in both he and John being arrested and thrown in jail overnight. The next day they appeared before the Jewish Council, also known as the Sanhedrin, and were commanded to not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Peter’s response was – which is right in God’s eyes, to listen to you, or to Him? We can’t help but speak and teach in His Name after what we’ve seen and heard.

Now chapter 5 begins with a very interesting story. Let’s look at verses 1-11. “But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”

As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?”

“Yes,” she replied, “that was the price.”

And Peter said, “How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord like this? The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will carry you out, too.”

Instantly, she fell to the floor and died. When the young men came in and saw that she was dead, they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.”

Let us pray: Holy God, thank You for Your Word. For the psalms, proverbs, parables, historical narratives and everything else we find in between. Help us to learn what you desire from this particular chapter and story. And may You be glorified in the process. In the Name of Jesus, we ask and pray.

Before I say anything else, first let’s make it clear that even with the power of the Holy Spirit within us, we as believers are not immune to the temptations of Satan – we fall privy to them much more often than we even realize. But because of the work Christ did on the cross for us, sin no longer has any power over us. We can learn how to resist temptation – how to say no to Satan.

Now I don’t know how all of you feel about this punishment, but it seems pretty darn harsh to me. Which reminds me of the parable told by Jesus in Luke 12 called the Parable of the Rich Fool which once again, results in a very harsh punishment — death. In that parable Jesus is warning against greed. The rich man had such a surplus of extra grain that he decided to tear down his barns to build bigger ones to store the grain. Then he was going to take the rest of his life easy and eat, drink and be merry. Jesus’s response was: ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’”

This situation that occurred with this couple in chapter 5 was a very important situation that set a precedent for the early believers. Peter’s wording in this passage indicates that the sin was not stinginess or holding back part of the money. Rather, it was their dishonesty, their lying. This act was judged harshly because dishonesty, greed and coveting are destructive in a church, preventing the Holy Spirit from working effectively. Consequently, this sin cost them their lives.

I think in our scripture for today, there are 2 huge takeaways. Number one, when we sin – we are sinning against God, not people. Of course, that works both ways. When someone sins against usthey are sinning against God. Personally, I think a lot of times we forget this. The truth is that in the end, it’s always God we are sinning against!

I wonder if we would sin less if we were always consciously aware that all sin is against God. On the flip side of that, however, I also think we forget all to easily who our real enemy is. Just as we are ultimately sinning against God – ultimately Satan is always the enemy – not the person who sinned against us. It would be wise for us to remember these 2 important truths. Perhaps remembering that Satan is always the enemy may even help make it easier to love our enemies!

And as you all know, that’s one of the primary ways Christians are to be set apart from everyone else. We are called to love our enemies. “If we love those who love us, where’s the reward in that, are not even the tax collectors doing that” as Jesus asks in Matthew 5:46? There is no reward in loving those who love us. However, to love those who persecute us, to pray for those who persecute us, is another matter entirely. Talk about shining the light of Christ!! Now just as an aside here, that does not mean God endorses abuse. God most definitely does not. I just want to be clear about that.

The second takeaway is that we often rank sin. Perhaps one of the greatest deceptions of our time is that serious sin is rarely committed by most of us. That it’s only very wicked people who usually commit sin. And many people assess their own moral standing with such thoughts as “I’m basically a good person,” or “I haven’t murdered anybody for Pete’s sake.” I know I have certainly made comments of that nature before.

Of course, murder and rape would be at the top of the sin list for most of us. Of less importance is anger, (but remember Jesus compared anger with murder), lust, (and Jesus compared lust with committing adultery), gossip, using profane language, slander, gluttony, having a mean-spirited thought, bitterness, complaining (aka whining – I can do a real number with that one – just ask my accountability group)!

The Bible tells us “For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God. Thus, in walking with the Lord, it’s important for us to humble ourselves and seek the truth. This requires looking deeply within – which is never easy to do! Charles Spurgeon once said, “Christ offends men because His gospel is intolerant of sin.” Fortunately for us, God doesn’t leave us in the dark about what He considers sin. You can find passages about sin all over the Bible and as I was researching this message, I saw in several places that there are actually 667 sins listed in scripture. Now I don’t know if that’s accurate, but Wow! Oh my gosh! Here are some bible verses that include a list of sins to be mindful of: 1 Cor 6:9-10, Eph. 5:3-6, Rev. 22:12-16. I encourage you to read them later.

I do, however, want to read Galatians 5:19-21 from the NLT to you. Paul states this: “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

And also, Matthew 25:41-46. This is a very well-known passage of scripture. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me  nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous, but the righteous to eternal life.” 

Now in this last scripture, it’s basically a matter of not serving those in need. I may not have considered that sin prior to growing closer to God, but apparently He does.

Again, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1John 1:7). We are so blessed in that for those of us who love our Lord, who seek to be more like Him, who trust in Him and serve Him, who have confessed our sins to Him and repented, He has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. After all church family that is the good news of the gospel. What Christ did for us on the cross to restore us to the Father.

That is what we are reminded of each time we participate in the sacred and Holy Sacrament of Communion. We are reminded of the suffering and death of Jesus, our Savior. Let us pause to both confess our sins and consider His great sacrifice on our behalf.

Jesus was eager to celebrate the Last Supper with His disciples. And He is eager to celebrate it with us as well! Remember He is present with you right now in the comfort of your own home.

On the night in which He gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you, 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 remember of me.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered around our tables in our homes and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood 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.

Let us pray….

We praise you Holy God for your goodness, your love, your mercy, and your grace. May we leave the communion table today filled with your Holy Spirit. May we honor Him by following Him through our obedience. Thank you for the incredible gift of the Lord’s Supper.
Thank you for all the ways you move in our lives. Thank you for keeping us safe and protected from the virus and for keeping our loved ones safe too. We ask for it to be eradicated never to return. 
Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed by 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 forever. And all of God’s people said: Amen.
The Body of Christ broken for you. The Blood of Christ shed for you. Amen.

I love you! I miss you! Have a wonderful week and stay healthy! Until next time brothers and sisters……God bless you and keep you!

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts -Chapter 4

Good morning church family! Well once again I am videoing the message in order to keep everyone safe and healthy during these challenging times, particularly in light of Clark County’s escalation from orange alert to red alert this past week. But I did want you to know that I will still be in the office on Wednesdays.

This week we are starting on chapter 4 in the Acts of the Apostles. Are you enjoying our study thus far? I hope so, I know I am. Last week we briefly discussed Peter’s second sermon given immediately after his healing of the lame man, which is the first recorded miracle in Acts. Peter realized that he had a captive audience and that it would be a great time once again to share Jesus – to share the gospel with all those who had gathered around. We also took some time to learn more about the apostle Peter and his prominence in the early church.

So, this morning let’s start with Peter’s 2nd sermon again. Peter was full of the Holy Spirit thus his message was powerful. And as with his first sermon, he was straightforward and to the point, and he accused his audience of killing the author of life. Now we are still in this same scene, but we are moving on to chapter 4 and reading from verses 1-21 which is a very long reading I know, but there is a lot to cover. I’m reading from the NIV version. And I will stop occasionally to interject some comments.

“The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. (Yes, you heard me correctly! It’s only Peter’s 2nd sermon and already they are put in jail for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ). But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

(If you recall, prior to the day of Pentecost there were about 120 believers. On Pentecost after Peter’s first sermon 3000 men were added to the church. After this, his second sermon, an additional 2000 men were added, totaling approximately 5000 men – from just two sermons. Wow! When the Holy Spirit is moving, He really does move doesn’t He?!)

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called into account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is “’the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Do people take note that you have been with Jesus? I’m asking myself that question right now!) But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to Him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Let us pray – Gracious God there is so much in Your Word for us to learn. We praise You for this wonderful gift and for the fact that we can never cease learning when we read it. We know that Your Word never returns to You empty, but that it accomplishes exactly what You set out for it to accomplish. May all of us be transformed through the power of Your Holy Spirit and Your mighty Word. In the Name of Jesus we ask and pray. Amen.

Just to explain who some of these people are – the priests initially involved were those who were serving that week in the temple precincts. The captain of the temple guard was the leader of the guards who were set around the temple to ensure order. The Sadducees were members of a small but powerful religious sect that did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They were religious leaders who stood to gain financially by cooperating with the Romans.

Peter and John were speaking during the afternoon prayer time. The Sadducees heard them and moved in quickly to investigate. Now think about it, if they don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, they are going to indeed be disturbed with what the apostles were saying. Peter and John were point blank refuting one of their fundamental beliefs and thus threatening their authority as religious teachers. Even though the nation was under Roman rule, the Sadducees had almost unlimited power over the temple grounds. Thus, they were able to arrest Peter and John for no other reason than the apostles teaching something that contradicted their beliefs.

The rulers, elders and teachers of the law whom Peter and John made an appearance before the next day, made up the Jewish council – the same council that had condemned Jesus to death. There were 70 members plus the current high priest, Annas, who presided over the group. The Sadducees held a majority in this ruling group. The men in this council were among the most wealthy, intellectual, and powerful men in all of Jerusalem.

When Peter responds to them that morning, we are reminded once again that He was full of the Holy Spirit. He shares that the healing occurred by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who they crucified but whom God raised from the dead. He was the stone they rejected, but He became the cornerstone. He then goes on to make a very important declaration.

Salvation is found in no else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Did you hear that? No other name – not Buddha, not Mohammad, not Satan, (unfortunately yes, people worship Satan as a God), nor any of the other Gods worshipped around the globe. Nowadays people think as long as you believe in a God that it’s okay. You’re safe and you’re going to heaven. But church family that is simply not true.

Did you know there are over 4,300 religions in the world today? This is according to Adherents, an independent, non-religiously affiliated organization that monitors the number and size of the world’s religions. Yet nearly 75% of the world’s population practices one of the five most influential religions of the world: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. Christianity and Islam are the two religions most widely spread across the globe. As a matter of fact, these two religions comprise over more than half of the world’s population – which now stands at about 7.5 billion.

Yet, there is no other name – belief and faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven! And Jesus Himself tells us that – “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He also tells us to “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). And with so many world religions, it’s easy to see how people can get confused and wind up going through the wide gate. Especially when you grow up in a religion that is not Christianity. We are fortunate and greatly blessed that at least most of us, if not all of us, grew up in the Christian faith, in a time when our country was primarily Christian. I don’t know about you, but I’m very thankful for that. I’m not sure at all that I would have found my way to Christ if I grew up in India, for example.

Now there is one more item I want to point out from this scripture passage. The Jewish council let Peter and John go but commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. I love how the apostles respond. “Judge for yourselves whether it’s right in God’s sight to obey you or Him. We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

At this point in their lives and walk with the Lord, Peter, John and all the apostles knew it was not about pleasing others. We have a term for that in our culture and it’s called people pleasing. They had learned it was all about pleasing God and only God. I don’t know about you, but I think this is a problem for many of us in this day and age. We want to be liked. We don’t want to upset others, so we often step outside of God’s will. And I think our social media situation now only exacerbates this issue. Unfortunately, church family, we as a society tend to be more worried about pleasing the people in our lives – our spouses, our families, our church family, the people around us in our communities, than we are about pleasing God. And this is a big problem, for at least some of us.

I’m working on this very issue right now in my life. I’ve come to the conclusion that fear of rejection is at the root of my desire to please other people. The problem is, my fear should be of the Lord’s rejection, not that of humans!

Finally in this passage, Peter and John end their rebuttal with “We cannot help speaking about what we had seen and heard.” When we come to know Jesus, when we realize the tremendous sacrifice He made on our behalf. When we come to experience His great love and mercy – His amazing grace – we can’t help but speak out on behalf of Him. I’d like to end with a profound scripture from the prophet Jeremiah, found in his book in chapter 20 verse 9, and it goes like this. “But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name, his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.’”

Let us pray. Holy God may we speak out boldly in the name of Jesus for You. May we seek to please You above all. May we not hold the truth about what You have done for us quietly in our hearts, but rather share it with others. Share it with those you put across our path, those who we are to nurture, to mentor, to raise. May we not only speak the truth about You, but may we live it! May we be transformed by the renewal of our minds through Your written Word. May our hearts be purified through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. May we live each day for You and only You.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by 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 forever. Amen. 

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts

Chapter 3 continued

We are journeying through the Acts of the Apostles and last Sunday we heard about the first of many miracles in this book, when Peter and John were entering the temple for prayer and were stopped by a lame man asking for money. But instead of money – Peter healed him.

Continuing with chapter 3 this morning, as well as taking a closer look at the Apostle Peter, we’re going to pick up at Peter’s second sermon which occurred immediately after he healed the lame man. Many had gathered around Peter, John and the man in absolute astonishment at what had just transpired. 

However, Peter was very quick to ensure they all understood that this man was not healed by human power. He was healed only in the name of Jesus, and by His power alone. They, Peter and John, had absolutely nothing to do with it. Then realizing that he had the perfect opportunity to share once again about His beloved Jesus, that’s exactly what Peter did. 

Those who had gathered around them on Solomon’s portico did so because they had either witnessed the miracle and/or recognized a miracle had taken place, because they saw the lame man walk. Peter realized that their being in a state of awe over this miracle, made them more open to hearing about God. 

And truthfully church family, a situation such as this and/or the exact opposite – people undergoing extremely challenging and difficult life circumstances – often does create an openness in our hearts to experience God – in a way that normal everyday living does not. Which is in part, why God allows us to go through hard times, as much as we don’t like it!

Now you will find, much like Jesus, Peter does not mince words and he point blank tells the crowd exactly like it is. Sometimes we don’t like it when people are blunt with us, do we? I know I don’t. 

Yet, that’s exactly Peter’s approach. Just as it had been with the first crowd he spoke to. He told the unvarnished truth, realizing how very important it was to do so. After all, eternity was at stake. And people of God – eternity is still at stake! 

In 2 Peter we learn that God does not want any to perish, but that He wants all to come to repentance, so that is Peter’s primary concern. As the Lord’s disciples, it should be our primary concern as well. Helping people see the truth – the truth about Jesus, the truth about salvation, and the truth about the Kingdom of God. 

So, once again, he reminded them that they had rejected Jesus – the Holy, righteous One, and handed Him over to Pilate, who wanted to release Him. But instead, they chose to release a criminal – a murderer. “You killed the author of life” Peter accuses the crowd. But fortunately, as we all know, God raised Him to life, and the apostles and many others were witnesses to this truth. 

The life of Christ is a fact of history. It is also true that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. As a matter of fact, His resurrection is as widely reported as His actual existence. There were many eyewitness accounts of Christ being alive after his burial. 

But back to our story, Peter does soften when he follows-up with the statement, “Friends, I realize that what you and your leaders did to Jesus was done in ignorance. And that God was fulfilling what the prophets had foretold long ago about the promised Messiah. 

But he then goes on to tell them what they need to do. “Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.” “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12

And that in a nutshell is the Gospel! Jesus suffered and died a tragic death so that we could be made right with God. To receive Him we must repent (which simply means change direction) and turn to Him while turning awayfrom our sins – which is obviously the change direction part.

Now, at this point in time, the Apostle Peter was a bold and outspoken man – one to whom many listened and as a result, were saved. Which is pretty amazing when you consider Peter’s background! 

Unlike Paul, who was a scholar and a first- class orator, Peter, whose original name was Simon, and who was also known as Simon Peter and Cephas, was a fisherman.

Fishermen in the 1st century were gruff, unkempt, vile, and shabbily dressed men, who often used vulgar language. Which may be why the other two apostles who were brothers and fisherman, James and John, were nicknamed by Jesus the Sons of Thunder.

Peter was married – we don’t know his wife’s name, and it’s believed that she traveled with him, at least some of the time. We also don’t know if they had children. There is one reference in 1 Peter to a son. However, it’s highly probable he was referencing his spiritual son, John Mark in that passage. 

Yet, despite his meager beginnings, Peter became a central figure of great importance to the church. When you study the four Gospels you will notice just how important, as he is included in nearly every episode of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Most of the 12 disciples are scarcely mentioned by name. Even John, known as the “beloved disciple” and Judas Iscariot, known as “the traitor,” are only mentioned 20 times. Andrew, Peter’s brother 12 times. Thomas “the doubter,” 10 times. And the rest of the apostles, three times or less. 

Peter, however, while I did see a variation in numbers researching this, is mentioned by name 191 times. He is not only mentioned far more often than any of the other apostles in the Gospels, he is the leading figure among the 12 in the first half of the Acts of the Apostles. He is the only Apostle who walked on water and the only Apostle who raised a person from the dead.

In addition, there is reliable evidence through church tradition and early church historians that the Gospel of Mark is actually the gospel of Peter. Peter is said to have dictated his discipleship with Jesus to John Mark, who was a close companion of his during his later years.  

And if you read this gospel closely, you can see the details of what appears to be an eyewitness account from the perspective of Peter. Some of the events, for example, the Transfiguration, where Peter, James and John were alone with Jesus, read as a first-person retelling of the story.

In the centuries following Peter’s death, it was Peter, not Paul who was considered Rome’s first bishop and founding pope. And while there are at least three different interpretations of the Matthew 16:18 scripture which says, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” One of the interpretations is that Peter would in fact become the rock upon which the church was built, which is why Christ changed his name from Simon to Peter, which means rock

Yet, have you ever noticed how Peter is frequently portrayed as a flawed disciple – one who seeks to follow Jesus – but is also confused, afraid, and faltering. And of course, we simply cannot forget, his denial of knowing Jesus – not once, not twice, but three times. 

However, while his shortcomings are on display in the gospels for all to see – so too is his courage, determination, and especially his love for and longing to follow Jesus, even if it cost him his life – which it did. As he would eventually lay down his life for the gospel. 

The Bible doesn’t tell us how Peter died, but the most commonly accepted church tradition is that Peter was crucified, upside down in Rome. That when Peter was put to death, he requested to be crucified on an inverted cross. The reason for his request was because he had denied his Lord, thus, he did not consider himself worthy to die in the same manner Jesus had. 

What we do know for sure about Peter’s death is Jesus’ prophecy in John 21:18–19.
“‘Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” Stretching outhis hands could easily be interpreted as Peter dying on a cross with his arms outstretched. 

Jesus foretold the manner of Peter’s death, perhaps to prepare him. Ancient writers say that Peter was put to death about 34 years after Jesus’ prophecy. However, Peter’s precise age at that time is not known. Scholars speculate that he was somewhere between 63-66.

Despite the gruesome details Peter heard about his death from Jesus, he must have taken some comfort and joy in hearing that his death would glorify God. Peter’s love for Jesus and his desire to obey and glorify Him after the resurrection were evident throughout the rest of his life and ministry. 

On a side note, you might find it interesting to know that according to a 4th century Roman historian, Peter’s wife was martyred the same day that he was. 

In fact, according to him, Peter’s wife was executed first. And when Peter saw his own wife led out to die, he rejoiced because of her summons and her return home, (remember heaven is our home – we are just passing through here on earth), and called to her very encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name, and saying, “Remember the Lord.”

For Peter to die a martyr’s death clinging to the hope of heaven testifies to the courage, faith, patience, and perseverance of this great man of God who rejoiced to be counted worthy to die for the name of Jesus. 

I’d like to leave you with a couple of questions to ponder over. Do you desire to attain the level of faithfulness and love for Jesus that Peter had? I know I do. And if you do, how are you working toward developing that same depth of faithfulness and love? Certainly, as followers of Jesus, it is something to strive for throughout our lifetime! 

Let us pray. Almighty Father, we praise You and offer up our thanks to You for all You do for each one of us each day! We are blessed to know and love You and to know and love each other! Thank You for our families, our church, our community, and our country. Thank You for your continued provision, protection, forgiveness and unfailing love. 

Please Lord, eradicate this virus. Help us as brothers and sisters to do our part. Help those who are in leadership to make wise decisions. Be with all the health care providers Lord as they continue to work with those who are ill. Protect them so they do not catch it.

Father, help us to love each other. Help us to not judge, as we will be judged with the same measure. Help us to seek You with everything within us, to put You at the center of our lives. To follow You faithfully just as the Apostle Peter and all the Apostles did except the one who was lost. Give us courage to share Your truth — Your message to all those You bring across our path. 

We love You Lord. May our loves glorify Your Name and bear fruit for Your Kingdom! It’s in the matchless name of Jesus we ask and pray…….

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

Journey Through Acts

Acts 3:1-13a

Last week in chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles we saw the impartation of the Holy Spirit come upon the followers of Christ. We heard about Peter’s first sermon and that it was so powerful 3000 believers were added to the church that day. We also looked at how the church began. 

Initially the followers of Jesus regularly gathered in the temple and still followed Jewish rituals and worship protocol. Which was fitting for Christianity began as a form of contemporary Judaism that accepted Jesus as the Messiah. 

However, the beginning stages of the church’s separation are recorded in Acts when Christian leaders such as Peter and Paul continued to boldly proclaim Christ as the Messiah. And eventually they began meeting in each other’s homes when the full and final split between Judaism and Christianity took place by the time of the 1st Jewish revolt from Rome in 66-70 A.D. They were no longer welcome in the temple as believers in Jesus. 

And just as a reminder. At least part of the reason why the Jewish people did not believe Jesus was the long awaited and promised Messiah was because they thought the Messiah was going to be a great military leader and free them from Roman occupation. And yes, Jesus did indeed come to set them from, just not from the Romans. He came to set them free from sin. He came to set us all free from sin.

We discussed the 4 primary components that made up each gathering of believers during this timeframe. Those components were the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, communion, and prayer. And certainly, our church to this day continues in the same vain, although just as an aside, I would like to add a fifth component. And we clearly see this 5th component included in chapter 3 of Acts, which is the chapter we are looking at today. 

The fifth component I’d like to add, and I think you’ll agree, is worship. An excellent definition of worship is found in Psalm 34:3, “Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.” Max Lucado defines worship as, “the act of magnifying God – enlarging our vision of Him.” The biblical definition of magnify is “to make great,” “to extol,” to “celebrate in praise.” 

If we could have a conversation with God right now, face-to-face, I wonder what He would say about our worship of Him – both here at church – and each day no matter where we are as worship can and should happen anywhere and everywhere. I hope that He would be pleased, don’t you? After all, our lives should be all about Him.

So, now on to chapter 3. It starts off with Peter and John going to the temple together to pray. Scholars believe the two of them were together, and followed Jesus and the soldiers who arrested Him, to the high priest’s palace. Yes, Peter denied Him, but none of the other disciples but he and John, followed Jesus after His arrest. Rather we are told they fled or scattered like sheep as prophesized about in Zechariah 13 and by Jesus Himself in Matthew and Mark. 

Both men also ran together to the tomb of Jesus after being told by Mary Magdalene that he had risen. None of the other disciples did. They were together at Peter’s first address to the crowd, and now we see them together once again going to the temple for prayer and what will soon be Peter’s second address to the crowd. I bet they became pretty darn good friends throughout all of this – don’t you think?

The Jews went to the temple 3 times daily to pray — at 9:00 in the morning, at 3:00 in the afternoon, and at sunset. It’s now 3:00 and the first of many miracles recorded in Acts is about to take place. The event which led to praise and worshipping God in the temple! 

As Peter and John approached the temple gate called Beautiful, which was a favorite entrance into the temple, a man who was lame asked them for money. Although scripture doesn’t tell us who, someone carried this man to the temple every single day because many people passed by and he relied on their generosity to survive. He would beg those entering the gate for help. He depended on almsgiving since he had no other way of providing for himself. And fortunately for him, giving to beggars was considered praiseworthy by the Jews.

We’re told both disciples looked at the lame man intently. Maybe at this point they were each feeling the prompting of the Holy Spirit to do something for this man, to cure him. Although that was certainly not something the man expected, he just wanted money. 

Perhaps he didn’t expect Peter or John to deliver on his request, or maybe he was ashamed of his need to beg for help, because he didn’t make eye contact with either one of them, until Peter demanded he do so. 

Thus, the lame man looks at the disciples as directed. Peter tells him and I’m paraphrasing now, I’m sorry, I don’t have any money. But what I do have I will gladly give you. You see, I have the power of the Most-High God within me, the Holy Spirit. So, I say to you, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk.” 

He takes him by the right hand and helps him up and the man is instantly healed. And what does the man do immediately? He begins walking on his strengthened feet and ankles, leaping, and praising God. And then he went with the disciples into the temple courts for the very first time in his life. He was no longer on the outskirts – he had entered the temple complex. 

But you know, I wonder what he was thinking in that moment of time, right before the most amazing event ever to happen in his life was about to occur! Remember, this man had been lame from birth. Most likely he was paralyzed. He had never walked, never skipped or jumped as a child, much less been able to run. He probably couldn’t even stand up on his own. 

Now put yourself in his shoes for a minute. Can you imagine his weary, hopeless, existence? Day after day, he was carried to this gate. Day after day he had to ask for money from others so he could feed himself. All the while watching the others walk nimbly by, talking, laughing, and perhaps joking with each other.

 Do you think he ever questioned why he was the one who was born lame?  Do you think he ever thought about simply giving up? Do you think he ever wondered if God had completely forgotten about Him? After all, he never entered the temple, he was always on the outskirts, on the outside – while everyone else went inside. 

Sometimes it’s easy for us to think God has forgotten about us. He doesn’t answer our prayers right away or the way we want. Instead, He often lets us struggle and go through difficult, challenging situations. So like this lame man, perhaps there have been times when youhave questioned why. When you have felt like giving up. When you wondered if God had forgotten about you

Yet the Lord was on the brink of providing a miraculous turnaround for this man. Certainly what God provided for him in that moment was so very much better than any silver or gold could ever amount to. He restored this man to wholeness. He was now able to provide for himself – he would no longer need to rely on others. 

Might I encourage you not to give up if you are waiting on God? If you are struggling right now, if you think He has forgotten about you. I can assure you He has not!! Psalm 139:17-18 teaches us His thoughts about us outnumber the grains of sand on the seashore….. Don’t give up on God – don’t give up on the miracle He might have in store for you! But be sure you’ve asked Him for it. We are told to ask at least 39 times in scripture. So we do need to tell Him what we need and want.

And remember, Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:20, “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” He can and He will do far more than we can ever think or imagine. But we have to have faith – we have to believe He is a good God, and willing to do that which He deems is the best for each one of us.

Now back to the story. When everyone saw him walking and praising God, they were amazed as they recognized who he was and knew he had been lame. Of course, as you can imagine, when the miracle occurred it was quite a sight! And as you might imagine it attracted a great deal of attention. People were in absolute awe and quite astonished by this event. After all this man was born lame and they all knew it. So of course, they gathered around the man along with Peter and John at Solomon’s Colonnade. 

Solomon’s Colonnade was part of the temple complex built by King Herod the Great in an attempt to strengthen his relationship with the Jewish people. It’s a porch along the inner side of the wall enclosing the outer court. 

It was centrally located and one of the few public places in Jerusalem that was large enough to accommodate a huge crowd. People often passed through or gathered there to socialize or engage in discussion before or after their sacrifices and prayers at the temple. Thus, it was a good place to share the gospel and that’s exactly what Peter begins doing! 

Peter knew immediately that the crowd would attribute the miracle to the two of them, so he was very quick to correct their erroneous thinking and give credit where credit was due – with Jesus. 

When Christ cured people He did so in His own power and His own name. When the disciples did so, they did so in the name of Jesus and in His power – not their own. They recognized and understood where their miraculous power came from and then gave the glory to Jesus. They were looking more and more like Jesus, and they were no longer the self-seeking and vain men Jesus had originally called.

Notice the lame man also realized it was through the power of God that He was healed – notthrough the apostles, because he immediately began praising God – clearly he was a man of faith. He knew that God should always get the credit. 

Everything we accomplish for good is only accomplished by and through God’s power. God is the one who gives us the abilities, gifts, and strengths that we all have. And yes, we all have them! After all, it’s in Him that we live and move and have our being as we learn further on in Acts in chapter 17. 

And with that we will close for the day and pick up next week with Peter’s second address, which is still chapter 3, and we’ll also take a closer look at the apostle Peter. Let us pray — most Holy and Gracious God we praise You, we worship You, we love You! Thank You for who You are and what You have done for each one of us. Thank You for providing for us, for keeping us safe and protected from the virus, for healing us and making us whole. Please help all those involved to come up with a cure or vaccine for this virus so that it is eradicated soon! Please keep those who are taking care of those who are sick safe. Thank You that You have a good plan and purpose for each one of our lives. May we live out Your purpose to the full. May we accomplish what You created us to do. Please forgive us of our sins and help us to repent where needed. And now let’s pray the Lord’s prayer. 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 forever. And all of God’s people said, Amen.
Have a God-blessed week. Stay safe and healthy! Jesus loves you and so do I. You are in my prayers……
Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts

Acts 2:42-47

I hope you had a fantastic 4th yesterday! As you went about your day, I hope you thought not only about the freedom of our wonderful country, and all of the many sacrifices made, so that we continue to enjoy it, but the freedom offered to us in Christ Jesus. 

After all, the freedom offered in Christ, in the long run, is far more important than the physical freedom we have here and now. The freedom Christ offers has eternal value. 

Remember, John tells us in 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” And Paul tells us in 2nd Cor 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  So, what does this mean exactly? 

It means we’ve been freed from shame and guilt, (“There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, Romans 8:1), freed from the power of sin and from the penalty of sin, freed from fear of the evil one, from fear of death, and freed from the grave itself! 

Through the Cross of Christ, we are given genuine, lasting and ultimate freedom. We are truly free – whether we live down the street, in a prison cell, or in a communist country where we have to worship underground. Christ offers us freedom and freedom is a beautiful thing……

Now, as you know, we started our journey into the Acts of the Apostles last Sunday. Yes, Acts is a historical record of the early church, but it’s also a theological book. Acts is the connecting link between the life of Christ and the life of the church, between the Gospels and the letters. 

We discussed how throughout Acts, Luke was concerned with demonstrating the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit. The church itself began through the Holy Spirit’s empowerment of the apostles. 

Now in chapter two it opens on Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, who had been waiting for it as instructed by Jesus. Through this impartation, the disciples were then equipped for the task of both witness and mission.

Remember Jesus’ last words to His disciples before His ascension were, “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” Matthew 28:19-20. So now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were ready to carry this out.

Next, Peter addresses the crowd and gave his first message as an apostle, and what a message it was! It was extremely powerful! It was so powerful, when the people heard it, they were cut to the heart – they were convicted – so they asked what they should do. 

Peter’s reply, which is still the same today when someone has been convicted, and/or is seeking the Lord is, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39). 

Thank You Jesus, because as stated here, this promise applies to us too! And it’s why we now live in the freedom of Christ!

Which brings us to our scripture passage for today – where we learn about the fellowship of the believers – the early church. Three thousand people became new believers that day, when the Apostle Peter preached the Good News about Christ. These new Christians were united with the other believers, taught by the apostles, and included in the prayer meetings and fellowship. 

Now keep in mind, the Jewish believers at first did not separate from the rest of the Jewish community. They still went to the temple and synagogues for worship and instruction in the Scriptures. But their belief in Jesus eventually created great friction with those who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, which of course, was the majority of the Jews. 

Thus, the believing Jews were forced to meet in private homes for fellowship, prayer, the apostle’s teaching about Christ, and communion. By the end of the 1st century, many of these Jewish believers were excommunicated from their synagogues. 

But that didn’t stop them from following Jesus! They continued meeting with each other. And when they came together, there were four activities the believers took part in – fellowship, prayer, the apostle’s teachings and communion. 

The word used for fellowship in this scripture passage means “sharing,” which most likely refers to the holding of a common meal or to a common religious experience. 

Next, we have the apostle’s teaching. The apostles were qualified for the task of teaching about Jesus because of their own personal relationship with Him, as well as their constant companionship with Him.

Prayer was conducted, which could have been part of the Christian meeting itself, or it could refer to the way the Christians observed the set Jewish hours of prayer. And if that is the case, we are talking about before they were excommunicated.

Finally, the last component the fellowship of believers engaged in when they met together is the breaking of the bread, which is Luke’s term for what Paul calls the Lord’s Supper. Jesus had told His disciples at the Last Supper when He broke the bread and passed the cup “to do this in remembrance of me.” And some two thousand plus years later, we are still breaking bread and passing the cup in honor of and remembrance of the tremendous sacrifice our Lord made for each one of us.
Holy God we love You and praise You for all the many blessings you bestow upon each one of us. Thank You for Your provision, Your protection, Your love and mercy. Thank You for this great country we live in — for the freedom we find here, but most importantly for the freedom offered through the sacrifice of Your Son. We cry out to You on behalf of our country and the trials and tribulations we are now going through. Please help us as Your children, to walk in love and peace — to shine Your light and share Your joy. And now let us pray 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. Amen.
Have a safe and healthy week. Jesus loves you and so do I!
Blessings,
Pastor Cathy

Journey through Acts

Acts 1:1-11

Before we get started on the message, I wanted to ask how many of you are happy to be back in church? Did you miss coming to church? Me too and I’m delighted that we are back and am praying that the virus will be squelched very soon so that everyone can return.

How many of you have struggled with the quarantine, and just everything going on lately? I know it’s been a very difficult time for many people. And especially for those who already struggle with depression and anxiety. 

I’d like to encourage all of you though to think about what God may be trying to teach you during this time. I know it was a very good time in some ways for me, and I truly feel closer to Jesus as a result of it all. I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to realize, that there is always something we can be thankful for, or something to learn when we walk through challenging trials. We just need to look for it, we need to look for the silver lining in the dark, gloomy cloud!!

Now, I’m really excited for us to begin our journey through the Acts of the Apostles! I think this is a book in the New Testament that is often overlooked. People tend to think of it simply as a history book, so we pass over it and don’t give it the time and attention it truly deserves. 

Yes, Acts is a historical record of the early church, but it’s also a theological book, with lessons and living examples of the Holy Spirit, church relationships and organization, the implications of grace and the law of love. Acts is the connecting link between the life of Christ and the life of the church, between the Gospels and the letters. 

Luke, the Greek, Gentile, physician wrote both the Gospel of Luke and Acts. Acts is the sequel to Luke’s Gospel. Some scholars even speculate that because the Acts of the Apostles ended so abruptly, Luke had planned on writing a third book. 

The Gospel of Luke tells what Jesus began to do and teach; Acts relates what He continued to do and teach through His apostles and His witnesses. Thus, the purpose of Acts was to give an accurate account of the birth and the growth of the Christian church. 

Thus, the 1st half of the book is focused on the beginning of the church and the Apostle Peter, who witnessed primarily to the Jews. The 2ndhalf is focused on Paul, who witnessed primarily to the Gentiles, as well as on his 3 missionary journeys. Throughout our journey together in this book we will take some time to get to know these two apostles – both of whom were incredible men!

Throughout Acts, Luke was very much concerned with demonstrating how both Jesus and the church were directed by the Holy Spirit to fulfill God’s purpose. The Holy Spirit plays a very important role in the Acts of the Apostles. It’s also important to realize, the church did not start or grow under its own power. Rather it began by and through the Holy Spirit’s empowerment of the apostles. 

Now this book covers the 30 years after Jesus ascended into heaven. It provides an eye-witness account of the flame and the fire – the birth and the spread of the church. Beginning in Jerusalem with the disciples, the message traveled through Judea, Samaria and across the Roman Empire.

And we know, that in just those 30 years, Christianity spread from believing Jews to non-Jews in 39 cities and 30 countries, islands or provinces. Now we have 195 countries in the world today, but I don’t believe there were anywhere near that many in the first century. So that is truly an amazing feat!

In our scripture reading for today, in chapter 1, verses 1-11 are the bridge between the events recorded in the Gospels and the events marking the beginning of the church. The key verse in the entire book of Acts is found nestled in these verses – its verse 8 which again reads: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The Holy Spirit was sent so that God would be both with and within His followers after Christ returned to heaven. The Holy Spirit would comfort them, guide them to know His truth, remind them of Jesus’ words, give them the right words to say, and fill them with power.

These disciples were empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach, teach and heal. They demonstrated love in the synagogues, schools, homes, marketplaces, courtrooms, on the streets, hills, ships, and desert roads – wherever God sent them. And because they went, because they followed and obeyed Him, lives were changed and history was made!

But here is the truth we need to hear today — we also receive power from the Holy Spirit when we choose faith in Jesus Christ. We are empowered to do whatever He has called us to do. Remember He does not call the equipped – He equips those He calls. 

When we receive the Holy Spirit it marks the beginning of our Christian experience. As we cannot belong to Christ without His Spirit, we cannot be united to Christ without His Spirit, we cannot be adopted as His children without His Spirit, and we cannot be in the Body of Christ, except by baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit is the very power behind our new lives in Christ. The Spirit begins a lifelong process within each one of us making us into the image and likeness of Jesus. When we receive Christ by faith, we begin an immediate personal relationship with God.  

And just as the apostles and disciples were to witness to the truth of the Kingdom of God. So too, are we. The Kingdom of God began when Christ came to earth, when He made the gift of salvation available to all who call on His name. The Kingdom of God lives within every believer’s heart. And the Kingdom of God will not find total fulfillment until Christ returns. Until that time, believers are to work to spread God’s Kingdom across the world. What the early church started, we must continue. We are to witness for Christ – to point others to Him. We are to deny ourselves and take up cross and live for Him. Not at all an easy feat. But remember, we have the power of the Holy Spirit. He is not only with us, but He is within us. We can do this brothers and sisters! It’s our calling, it’s our fate. Let us pray…..
Holy God we love You and we praise You! We thank You that we can gather together once again. We ask that you would completely eradicate this virus so that everyone can join us each Sunday. We ask that you would keep us all healthy and well. That you would keep our families healthy and well. That you would be with the Porter, Call and Cassell families as they continue to mourn the loss of their loved one. 
We ask that you be with our country Father. We need Your healing touch desperately. We need Your truth and Your light and Your love to penetrate the darkness that has gripped our nation. May we return to You Father! May we cry out to You, may we confess our sins and turn from our ugly ways to love each other with Your love. 
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.
Have a good week. Jesus loves you and so do I.

Blessings,
Pastor Cathy