Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Essentials of Effective Evangelism

Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord (Acts 9:32-35).
The Spirit turns our attention from Saul to Peter, who was relentless in spending time with people… “Peter went here and there among them all”. He had the heart of an evangelist and he wanted to tell everyone the good news about Jesus Christ. But he did not simply walk up to people and start preaching to them. He did not stand on the street corner and preach to passersby. Peter had learned to rely on the Holy Spirit and the Spirit led him to encounters with very needy people. The Spirit empowered Peter to touch them, to meet their deepest need, and to produce a visible change in their lives. Watching the Holy Spirit lead and empower Peter, we discover an important Biblical truth. We learn that serving others opens doors to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and we discover the essentials of effective evangelism.
Eager witnesses are led by the Holy Spirit. Humble disciples know we have no words of our own that can change the heart of a person toward God. We often encounter overwhelming needs in the lives of those we want to lead to Christ. But like Peter, we have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit’s transformational work in our own lives, so we learn how essential it is to depend on Him to empower our witnessing efforts… “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:47-49). As we submit to and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, like Peter, we see His power at work in the lives of the lost, preparing them to receive the gospel from our lips… “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18). Jesus promised that we will see His power at work as we are led by the Holy Spirit to share the gospel with the lost.
Earnest witnesses invoke the name of Jesus Christ. Humble disciples know we do not have powerful, persuasive speech or arguments that can change the mind of a person about God. We often encounter questions we cannot answer from skeptics and doubters. But like Peter, we have a personal testimony that is centered on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ who has changed our lives… “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17). Whatever need we encounter in a lost person’s life, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, we know how essential Christ crucified is because His atoning death is a declaration of His love and power to meet their deepest need… “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). Paul reminds us that we will see the power of God at work when we invoke the name of Jesus Christ, our crucified Savior as we witness to the lost.
Engaged witnesses anticipate the testimony of transformed lives. Humble disciples know the results of our evangelizing efforts are the work of God. We expect and anticipate the evidence of His transforming power in the testimony of changed lives as we tell others about Jesus… “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Just as… “all the residents of Lydda and Sharon” witnessed the changed life of the formerly bedridden Aeneas, it is essential that we share the witness of our new born-again life because we anticipate the testimony of transformed lives among the hurting, needy, and lost around us who are touched by our vivid testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As we grow up into Christ, we will become more effective witnesses as we practice…
The Essentials of Effective Evangelism. 

Friday, June 7, 2019

The Marks of True Discipleship

And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. (Acts 9:26-31).
After Saul fled the persecution that arose against him in Damascus, he sought out the comfort and encouragement of the disciples that remained in Jerusalem, but his former reputation caused them to fear him. They did not recognize that Saul was not only a true disciple, but he was God’s choice to replace Judas as an apostle… “One of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:22). Saul had witnessed the resurrected Christ, and his encounter with Jesus had left evidence that he was now a true disciple. As Barnabas courageously obeyed the Holy Spirit’s leading and brought Saul before the disciples, along with them we are able to discern some more of the marks of true discipleship.
True disciples see Jesus often. The first thing Barnabas reported about Saul was that he had a personal and life transforming encounter with Jesus Christ. Barnabas knew the true disciples would understand the power of such an encounter, as they had the same experience during their years of living and walking with Jesus. Saul had seen and conversed with Jesus, just as they had. Something wonderful and supernatural occurs when we spend time gazing upon the Lord and listening to His voice through regular Bible study and prayer. We are changed and we become more like Him… “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The more we become like Jesus, the more we will become different than the world around us. Others will know that we are becoming true disciples of Christ if they sense that we see and hear from Him daily.
True disciples share Jesus often. Barnabas also reported that Saul… “had preached boldly in the name of Jesus”. Saul always had a heart to love and obey God. His encounter with Christ had redirected his zeal toward knowing and sharing God’s Son with others. Jesus gave him a new purpose and it was evident in his new gospel message… “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12). As true disciples meet daily with Jesus, our hearts are infected with His love for the lost and we are compelled to share His gospel with our needy world.
True disciples suffer for Jesus often. As Saul became more like Christ and as he boldly preached Christ, enemies of Christ were exposed and incited to put an end to his witness. Saul was so committed to Christ that the only way to silence his testimony was to end his life. Jesus promised that the same will be true for maturing disciples in every age. As we grow up into Christ, becoming like Him and sharing His gospel, His enemies will be compelled to attack us… “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:20). But Jesus also promised blessings to those who suffer for imitating and sharing Him in a hostile world… “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). We are reminded that we are true disciples of Christ whenever our witness incites persecution and we suffer because of Him.
As we grow up into Christ, our true identity is exposed to the world around us through…
The Marks of True discipleship.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Proof of a Transformed Life

And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket (Acts 9:20-25).
Saul was changed by his dramatic encounter with Jesus Christ. He was physically blinded and healed. His life purpose was completely reversed. The results were dramatic and undeniable. While there are many evidences of Christian conversion, here we are encouraged to consider and imitate four evidences of Saul’s new life in Christ that amazed his contemporaries and would later compel him to declare… “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Here we get a compelling illustration of the proof of a transformed life.
The transformed life is marked by public profession. The Spirit compelled Luke to tell us “immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues”. All of Saul’s accusing and condemning words were replaced with a simple, powerful message… “He is the Son of God”. The Spirit moved John to teach that this confession identifies the truly born-again believer… “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15). May God give us daily opportunities to make this profession too.
The transformed life is driven by purified passion. Before his encounter with Christ, Saul was passionately driven to protect and defend God and the Jewish religion. Christ purified Saul’s passion with the truth of the gospel and Saul was now driven to obey Christ’s command to… “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). May God purify our selfish hearts daily and fill us with a holy passion to proclaim Christ to our needy world.
The transformed life is infused by prolific power. In his encounter with Christ, Saul was stripped of the power of his position and even of the power to see and to care for himself. He was made weak and empty and ready for the power of the Holy Spirit to fill him and work through him. This was a wonderful fulfillment of Christ’s promise to His true disciples… “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We can expect and trust the Spirit’s power as we are His witnesses every day.
The transformed life is attacked by provoked persecution. Before his encounter with Christ, Saul had his Jewish supporters. He was their champion, defending their misdirected faith. But after his encounter, Saul became their worst nightmare. The power and effectiveness of his Holy Spirit empowered testimony could not be defeated with words. So great was the fear of the Jews that they were provoked to kill Saul. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit empowered and Christ revealing testimony of any true disciple will provoke persecution… “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). But Jesus also promised that holy persecution will produce holy blessings… “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). When we suffer rejection and persecution because of our Christ-reflecting words and life, let’s keep looking up, and let the anticipation of a forever reward in heaven encourage our hearts to endure and persist.
As we grow up into Christ, we are set apart and we impact the world around us with…
The Proof of a Transformed Life. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Call that is from God

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus (Acts 9:10-19).
With the words… “Now there was a disciple” our hearts should stir with anticipation of a revelation of truth, because we too are disciples. The Lord had a very special mission for this particular disciple named Ananias. He was to approach Saul, a sworn enemy of the young church, touch him in the healing name of Jesus, whom Saul hated with a passion, and commission him to a new life of preaching and suffering for the name of Christ that he so despised. Ananias was being called to be an instrument of God’s transforming grace in the life of a very well-known sinner, and if we follow closely, we will discover here three truths about how to answer the call that is from God.
God calls those who recognize His voice. Ananias’ response to the Lord when He called his name shows us that he recognized that the source of this voice was his Lord… “Here I am, Lord”. We are not told if this was the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit talking, but the voices are all the same. Years of studying God’s Word, days of listening to Jesus’ teaching, and hours of praying in the Spirit had produced a familiarity with the voice of God in Ananias’ heart. The same is true for any disciple. Because we are born again, we love spending time in God’s Word, listening to the teaching of Jesus, and praying in the Spirit, and these spiritual disciplines help us recognize the voice of the Lord… “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Growing disciples anticipate and recognize the call that is from God.
God calls those who question His voice. Ananias had some justifiable doubts about this call. He did not hide them, but he shared them openly with the Lord. We are reminded of Mary’s response to Gabriel when He appeared with news that she would soon give birth to God’s Son… “And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’” (Luke 1:34). God is not offended by our genuine questions. In fact, He loves answering us and helping us to know Him and His divine plans better… “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3) and “For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). God has an answer for every question that comes from the heart of an inquiring disciple.
God calls those who obey His voice. Ananias immediately went to Saul and obeyed every detail of the Lord’s instructions. There is still much holy work to be done today, and the Lord is still seeking growing disciples who listen to and obey His voice. Jesus taught that those who hear and keep (observe, preserve, obey) God’s Word will be blessed… “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28). Maturing disciples that are eager to study and obey God’s Word will surely hear His voice calling us to opportunities to apply it every day.
As we grow up into Christ, we become more familiar with His voice and we are eager to answer…
The Call that is from God.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Encounter that Transforms the Heart

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank (Acts 9:1-9).
The Holy Spirit gives us a dramatic description here of a life-changing encounter between Jesus Christ and Saul, one of His most active enemies. In the midst of a blinding light and a heavenly voice we see the grace of God released into the heart of the most powerful persecutor of the early church. The results are amazing as this former enemy of Christ became a serious disciple and leading apostle, making disciples, planting churches, and writing nearly two-thirds of the New Testament. When we meet with Christ, a similar transformation will occur. The Holy Spirit goes to work in us, transforming us into His image, making us more like Christ… “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). I pray that Saul’s Damascus Road experience encourages you to create a daily sacred place where you too can experience the encounter that transforms the heart.
An encounter with Christ will light up the heart. Before this encounter, Saul saw himself as a devout Jew, and defender of the faith against the heresy of what became known as the Way… “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women” (Acts 22:3-4). Overwhelmed by… “a light from heaven” Saul was blinded to the natural world around him and freed to see himself as Jesus saw him, as a servant and a witness to the One he was persecuting… “But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you” (Acts 26:16). In our intimate meetings with Him, Christ will remove the world’s distractions and help us see ourselves as He does, as God’s children… “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). A daily heart shaping encounter with Christ helps us see that we are growing children of the King!
An encounter with Christ will speak to the heart. When our heart anticipates hearing from Christ, our ears become sensitive to His voice as we read His Word. He once taught… “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:23), and He went on to explain… “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you” (Mark 4:24). The heart that hungers for more of His Word will hear His voice and be transformed by a close encounter with Him.
An encounter with Christ will humble the heart. Saul’s encounter with Christ left him blind and dependent on the very people he was persecuting, but now he could see and hear the truth more clearly than ever before. Near the end of his life, Saul, who became known as Paul (Gk. Paulus meaning little) described himself like this… “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews” (Acts 20:18-19). Saul was permanently humbled by the encounter that transformed his heart.
As we grow up into Christ, and we meet with Him daily, we are becoming more like Him through…
The Encounter that Transforms the Heart.

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Good News that Compels a Respnse

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea (Acts 8:35-40).
Philip was compelled to share the gospel with the eunuch. God had sent Philip into the wilderness where he encountered a seeking Ethiopian eunuch. Hearing the eunuch striving for understanding about God’s Word touched Philip’s heart. Listening closely to the eunuch’s questions moved Philip to enter into the eunuch’s life and show him how the words of the prophet Isaiah proclaimed the good news about Jesus Christ. The love of Christ revealed in the gospel that had transformed Philip’s life now compelled him to tell someone else… “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). When Christ’s love gets a grip on our heart, we too are compelled to go, listen, and share His gospel with others.
The eunuch was compelled to be baptized. As he had not already been baptized, the eunuch obeyed the Spirit’s impulse and he asked Philip to baptize him. When we respond in faith to the gospel, we are transformed from death into life… “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). Our new, forever life begins… “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Baptism is a glorious illustration of this new life experience… “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). New disciples have a fresh, compelling desire to obey Christ’s command to be baptized.
Philip was compelled to continue preaching the gospel. Overwhelmed by the joy of leading someone to faith in Jesus Christ, he went on to preach all the way to Caesarea! The gospel is God’s saving and destiny-altering power… “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Seeing someone come to faith in Christ is seeing God’s amazing grace in action… “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Even more amazing is the truth that God loves to include us in His wonderful plans for reconciling the lost to Himself… “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). We can experience God’s grace-in-action and share in His joy when others come home to Him as we preach His gospel.
As we grow up into Christ, we seek the blessing and experience the grace of God at work as we share…
The Good News that Compels a Response.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Lamb that the Prophets Foretold

Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” (Acts 8:32-34).
If we are willing, the Holy Spirit will help us to experience the curiosity of the Ethiopian Eunuch. Unlike contemporary disciples, he did not know that Isaiah was describing Jesus Christ. If we put aside our knowledge of the answer to his penetrating question, I believe we can receive a beautiful picture of the amazing glory, grace, and truth of God that is expressed in the Messiah... “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Here we get a wonderful glimpse of the Lamb that the prophets foretold.
We see God’s glory in Christ’s humiliation. I used to think of the resurrection as the moment of God’s greatest glory. Indeed, Christ’s victory over the grave assures us of victory over sin and its deadly consequences. But when Jesus spoke of the hour of His glory, He pointed clearly to the humiliation of the cross… “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:23-24). Indeed, the Spirit inspired Paul to write about the power and glory of the cross… “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:13-15). John the Baptist recognized the Lamb of God after Christ humbly submitted to baptism… “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29). You see, our blessed hope was secured by the resurrection, but it was purchased through the glorious humiliation of the Lamb of God.
We see God’s grace in Christ’s silence. How hard it is to keep silent when we believe we are right, when we have a strong argument and a sacred cause. Imagine Christ, the Son of God, with all authority and sovereignty, keeping silent in the face of the anger and hostility of His accusers. The night before, in the garden betrayal, Jesus revealed the power that was watching and waiting to be released upon His word… “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). But this battle would not be won with words or swords. Sin and death would be overcome by God’s grace working powerfully through the silent Lamb of God.
We see God’s truth in Christ’s injustice. When we look at the crucifixion through natural eyes, we are deceived because we see the justice of the Jewish council carried out against a blaspheming criminal. Jesus was a threat to the centuries old religious order. He broke all the rules and upset all the traditions that the elders were sworn to uphold. But when we look closely, the Holy Spirit guides us to the truth and we see the Son of God on the cross, executing divine justice in exchanging His life for ours. Christ was submitting to a higher justice, the justice of God… “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:23-24). While crowds demanded the crucifixion of an innocent man, God’s truth was being revealed in their injustice toward the Lamb of God.
As we grow up into Christ, we see and appreciate God’s glory, grace, and truth as revealed in Jesus, …
The Lamb that the Prophets Foretold.

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Grace that Pursues Us

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him (Acts 8:26-31).
An angel told Philip to leave the excitement and success of the Samaritan crusade and go off to… “a desert place”. This was an unattractive, illogical command. When I put myself in Philip’s place, I am ashamed to say that I would probably have raised some major objections with this angel. Then there was the Ethiopian official. We know… “he had come to Jerusalem to worship”. The Spirit shows us that as He worshipped the Lord, something got a grip on his heart. He was searching the scriptures and reading about the Messiah as prophesied by the prophet Isaiah. Something was shaking up these two lives and driving them to a glorious convergence. God was at work, compelling His servant to leave the large flock of sheep in Samaria to go after a lost sheep from Ethiopia… “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing” (Luke 15:4-5). Luke remembered this parable of Jesus, and gives us here a wonderful glimpse of the grace that pursues us.
Grace called to the Ethiopian. The Ethiopian official’s heart is revealed here. He had traveled miles to Jerusalem to worship God. His desire to be near God also compelled him to study the scriptures on his way home. Jesus taught that God’s grace works to draw lost children to Himself… No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:44). God’s grace revealed through Christ still calls us to Him… “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Because we are in Christ, we are called daily into a closer, intimate fellowship with our precious Father.
Grace connected Philip with the Ethiopian. I believe the Spirit inspired Luke to intentionally mention that the angel directed Philip to… “a desert place”. We are impressed that even though things were really going well in the Samarian revival, Philip… “rose and went” to this lonely, hostile, desert place without hesitation, question, or objection. God did not pick Philip up and supernaturally transport him into the desert. God’s grace moved on Philip’s pure, obedient heart, and he was compelled to obey. That’s what God’s grace does. Beyond saving us, God’s grace sets us apart from the world, makes us available to Him, fills us with anticipation for the appearance of Jesus, and makes us eager to do His work… “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14). God’s grace is working in our lives today, just as it did in Philip, to connect us with those Christ wants us to love and serve into a saving relationship with Him.
Grace compelled Philip to speak to the Ethiopian. The grace that connected Philip and the Ethiopian also compelled Philip to speak to him. God’s grace moved and empowered Philip to share understanding that would lead the Ethiopian to Christ. The Spirit of grace wants us to share His gospel too… “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14). We enjoy the blessing of leading others to Christ as we are compelled to speak His gospel into their lives.
As we grow up into Christ, we have been saved and we are compelled to share His gospel by…
The Grace that Pursues Us. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Power that Cannot be Purchased

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me. Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans” (Acts 8:14-25).
To grasp the whole truth of the Scripture here, we must ask the Holy Spirit to lead us to the truth that is hidden deep in the very specific and intentional words He inspired Luke to use. For instance, the apostles heard that Samaria had “received” (Greek – dechomai, accepted, passively taken) the Word of God, but they had not “received” (Greek – lambanĊ, caught, got hold of, aggressively seized) the Holy Spirit. So, they came to Samaria, laid their hands on the new believers, and they seized the Holy Spirit. One among them, Simon, whom we got to know in the previous verses, tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit from the apostles. Peter confronted Simon with the truth about receiving the Holy Spirit and His power, and together with Simon, we learn from Peter how to seize and share the power that cannot be purchased.
To seize the Holy Spirit and His power, we must ask. After the crowd heard Peter and John praying for them to receive the Holy Spirit, many in the crowd aggressively took hold of the Spirit. Watching this supernatural phenomenon also moved Simon to ask for this power. Although his motive was wrong, Simon’s first step, to ask, was right. Jesus made this point clear… “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13). Many Christ followers do not enjoy the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in our daily lives because we do not ask. Spending time with the Lord and listening to His Word helps us to realize how desperately we need more of Him and compels us to ask our Father to fill us with the Holy Spirit and His power every day.
To seize the Holy Spirit and His power, we must ask from a right heart. Peter told Simon very clearly that the reason he could not receive or share the power of the Holy Spirit was because his heart was… “not right before God”. Peter went on to describe the terrible condition of Simon’s heart, using the words… “gall of bitterness and… bond of iniquity”. The heart is God’s intended home for the Spirit of Christ… “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6). The heart that would be filled with the Holy Spirit must be made right by being cleansed of sin and iniquity by the forgiving blood of Jesus Christ first.
To seize the Holy Spirit and His power, we must ask in faith. Simon’s original request showed he trusted in his money. His second request, where he asked Peter to… “Pray for me to the Lord” showed repentance and was a desperate request of the Lord for forgiveness... “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21:22). Simon’s faith was redirected and his heart was now in the proper position to take hold of the true power of the Holy Spirit. His response reminds us of Jesus’ promise to answer our prayer to be filled with the Holy Spirit when we ask in faith.
As we grow up into Christ, we enjoy the blessings of the Spirit filled life as we learn how to ask for…
The Power that Cannot be Purchased.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Power that Inspires Faith in Christ

But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed (Acts 8:9-13).
God blessed Philip’s gospel preaching with such powerful signs and miracles that the entire city of Samaria was impacted… “For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed” (Acts 8:7). This was not the first time the Samaritans had seen such supernatural power. They were familiar with Simon; whose magic was so good they considered him to possess… “the power of God that is called Great”. But something was different about the power of Philip’s miracles. They did not point to Philip. While Simon’s magic attracted people to Simon, Philip’s message and power pointed to the… “good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ”. When our words and actions reflect the gospel of Jesus Christ, God releases His grace and we experience the power that inspires faith in Christ.
Miracles can manipulate faith. Everyone is looking for power. The devil’s great deception is to offer power to the people… “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Simon’s magic appealed to this hunger for power that drives fallen men and women. Like Eve, our hunger for power greater than ourselves makes us vulnerable to the manipulation of our faith and we are tempted to pay attention to and follow deceptive philosophies and people that promise this false power. But when God’s grace quickens our spirit, our hearts begin to seek the kind of power to forgive our sin and restore us to fellowship with our Father that is only available in Christ… “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5). God’s grace sets us free from those who would manipulate our faith to trust in Christ.
Miracles can mislead faith. When people are desperate, they are compelled to seek quick and easy solutions to their problems and needs. We too are vulnerable to becoming so focused on our trials and troubles that we forget about who Christ is and who we are in Him. When Philip… “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ”, God’s grace set the crowd free to refocus their faith on Jesus Christ, who calls His true disciples to keep our faith properly set on Him… “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). God’s grace compels us to grow closer to Christ through our trials and protects us from those who seek to mislead our faith.
Miracles can magnify faith. The signs and miracles performed by both Simon and Philip attracted crowds, but after hearing the words and experiencing his power, Philip’s crowd had a different faith. Their faith was refocused from the miracle workers Simon and Philip to… “the name of Jesus Christ”, the Son of God who became their Savior. Believing in Philip would make no eternal difference, but believing in the name of Jesus Christ changed their eternal destiny… “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Words and actions that reveal Jesus Christ have power to offer life in the most desperate situations… “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). May our words and deeds increasingly point to Jesus Christ as His grace magnifies the faith that compels the lost to discover and receive life in His name.
As we grow up into Christ, our words and actions increasingly reflect Him as we trust and experience…
The Power that Inspires Faith in Christ.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Power of Our Christ-Centered Gospel

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city (Acts 8:4-8).
Philip was representative of the many believers that were scattered from Jerusalem by the persecution that followed Stephen’s martyrdom. They were faithful and obedient to Christ’s commission to… “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). Jesus Christ was faithful to fulfill His promise to confirm their proclamation of His gospel… “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18). We notice that Philip’s gospel message was all about Jesus as he “proclaimed to them the Christ”. The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to use Philip’s crusade to encourage us to share the good news and release the power of our Christ-centered gospel.
Proclaiming the Christ-centered gospel prompts God’s saving grace. God was working in Philip’s heart, moving him to Samaria, giving him the words to proclaim about the Christ, and confirming his gospel message with supernatural signs. God was working in the hearts of the Samaritans, grabbing their attention and giving them the gift of faith to respond to Philip’s testimony about the Christ. It’s pretty clear here that because of his obedience, Philip got to experience God’s amazing soul-saving grace in action… “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). As we tell others about Jesus Christ, like Philip, we will experience first-hand, God’s saving grace at work through us and in others.
Proclaiming the Christ-centered gospel promotes deliverance and healing. The Samaritans were, like everyone else in this fallen world, oppressed by much sickness and disease. Many of their afflictions were the result of personal sin or the sin of others. Many were oppressed by unclean spirits. When they heard the good news about Jesus Christ… “the crowds with one accord paid attention” and they believed there was real power available to meet their deepest needs. The Christ-centered gospel reminds us that in His broken body there is healing, and in His shed blood there is salvation… “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). The gospel that proclaims the name of Jesus Christ declares His authority over all visible and invisible enemies… “And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God’” (Mark 3:11). When we introduce needy people to Jesus Christ, we are inviting them to experience His delivering and healing power.
Proclaiming the Christ-centered gospel produces joy. Luke summarizes his record of the impact of Philip’s brief but powerful crusade in Samaria with a very short word… “there was much joy in that city”. It’s pretty clear that many were joyful because where they were formerly sick and diseased, they were now healthy and energized. Many who has been spiritually and emotionally depressed and oppressed were now free and empowered to enjoy life again. Luke mentions later that many had received and believed the word Philip proclaimed about Jesus Christ, and they were baptized… “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God… but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:14-16). Because Philip helped the Samaritans see Jesus in his gospel message, their hearts were now filled with great joy… “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). When we share the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are introducing people to the source of real and lasting joy.
As we grow up into Christ, we long to tell others about him so they may experience…
The Power of Our Christ-Centered Gospel.

The Essentials of Effective Evangelism

Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, ...