Stephen: Is Your Faith Worth Dying For?

When we read the story of the early church, we see that almost every spirit-filled disciple of Jesus faced tremendous opposition and persecution. Peter, James, and John were imprisoned, beaten, and even killed by those who opposed their witness of Jesus Christ as the risen Lord. Jesus tried to prepare his disciples by telling them that they would be blessed in God’s eyes when others persecuted them on his behalf. Persecution and resistance to God’s leadership among his people was to be expected by those who served on the front line of the Holy Spirit’s movement called the early church.

We who live in America have adopted a view of our lives that favors comfort and having things our way. David Platt in his thought provoking book, Radical, challenges American Christians by stating that we “are starting to redefine Christianity. We are giving in to the dangerous temptation of taking the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into a version we are more comfortable with. We want Jesus to be and act like we expect him to be and act. But when we read the New Testament we discover Jesus is not who we always expected him to be nor does he act the way acceptable people would act in our culture.” 

We fear the threat of those who would challenge our faith or even attack our positions of belief and lifestyle. We want our lives to work the way that we have designed them. Sometimes Jesus is in the chaos and threats in life rather than our trips to Disney World. Mark Galli, Senior Editor of Christianity Today observed, “The chaos of life may be God’s way of molding us into forgiving and loving people. “Jesus refuses to be put in a box. He is not a nice Savior, whose goal is to make us feel better about ourselves and become well-adjusted, productive members of society. All that is well and good, but it is a part of our lot in life. But this is not the mission of Jesus. He is not interested in well-adjusted people, but mostly people who forgive and love. Sometimes he has to bring a little chaos into our lives to help us become the people that he has called us to be.” 

Stephen is one of the seven chosen to serve the needs of the early church and was stoned to death by the religious authorities because of his witness to Jesus Christ. He experienced the chaos of religious hatred and valance of a lynch mob and he became the first martyr of the early church. However, in the turmoil at the end of his life, his character shown through as evidence of the Holy Spirit in his life. The miracles performed through him, his spirit-guided wisdom, and his calm faith in the face of a righteous mob that hurled insults and stones at him demonstrated Christ-like character that spoke loudly of Jesus’ love and forgiveness and made a tremendous impact upon a man by the name of Saul who later became Paul one of the apostles of the early church. 

Our prayer needs to be, “Lord, give me your Holy Spirit, pour into me faith, grace, power, wisdom, and courage to believe you can do signs and wonders in and around me. Give me whatever challenges you can use to bless others and expand your church. And may at least one person see in my face the reflection of your love.” Remember there are a lot of people that are watching. May God help each one of us to be obedient and faithful.

See you Sunday in church!

Zaccheus – The Little Big Man

One of the best-loved stories in the Bible is the story of one of the most hated men of his day – Zaccheus. Sycamore He was a tax collector – under the Roman law there were certain Jews who worked under the Roman government and regarded as traitors, renegades, and thieves. A tax collector would charge any fee he wanted as long as the Roman government got their rightful share. This system made usury, graft, and corruption a way of life.

Zaccheus had reached the top of his profession and also had become the most hated man in the district. No one in their right mind that day would have ever imagined that Jesus would have become a guest at Zaccheus’ house. The last place they expected him to be entertained was in the home of this rich, evil, greedy person.

Little did Zaccheus dream, when he closed his toll booth that day and set out to take a look at Jesus that he was not only going to see him, but was actually was going to have him as a guest. It would never have occurred to him that this amazing man was coming to Jericho especially to find him and to enlist him in his kingdom. No one expected Zaccheus to ever become a Christian, but especially Zaccheus himself. Zaccheus was searching. He was lonely, and outcast, despised and hated by so many. He was small and I can only imagine that he had been called all types of names as a child and a teenager growing up.

Zaccheus was searching for something deeper in his life. Like so many he had God substitutes filling the void in his life. Pascal once said that we are all born with a God-shaped vacuum in our lives. And this vacuum can only be filled with God. But we are constantly trying to find God substitutes to place in that void in our lives. When Zaccheus climbed that sycamore tree he was hurting and searching for meaning in life. And when Jesus Christ met Zaccheus his life was never the same. He experienced the real thing. His conversion was so genuine that he decided to give half of his goods to the poor and restore four-fold to anyone that he had stolen from. He went far beyond the legal requirement of restitution prescribed in the Old Testament law. He was determined to do more than the law demanded. He showed by his deeds he was a changed man.

Our testimony is worthless until it is backed by deeds which guarantee its sincerity and genuineness. It is not a mere change of words which Jesus demands, but a change of life. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Welcome Jesus and then get ready. You are going to have some of the most marvelous experiences that you have ever had in your lifetime. When he comes in he makes major changes so that you can experience the abundant life both here and in the future.

See you Sunday in church!

 

A Step of Trust

06 26 14 Pat's PerspectiveMany of us need to take a step of trust. Our worries and fears stem from our unwillingness to turn our lives over to the Lord and really trust him. We feel confident that we can control our world by our own power but we fail. We toss and turn at night and get ulcers. We worry about the future. We become fearful about what lies ahead.

Fear reflects a lack of trust in God. When we become anxious and begin to worry we are saying to God, “I do not really trust you with this area of my life.” The greatest need that people have is to learn to really trust in God. Many of us are unhappy and uptight because we have shut God out of our lives.

In New York City in the old RCA Building on 5th Street there was a powerful statue in the entrance way of Atlas holding the world upon his shoulders. The most powerfully built man in the entire world could barely stand up under his burden. Now that is one way to live. Across the street there is St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and there is a shrine of a little boy Jesus who was probably eight or nine years old and with no effort is holding the world in one hand. We have a choice. We can carry the world on our shoulders or we can say, “I give up Lord, here is my life, and I give you my world, the whole world.”

If you wonder where God is during your struggles remember the teacher is always quiet during the test. He’s got the whole world in His hands. Take a major step of trust. Decide today to learn what it means that underneath are the everlasting arms. Turn over to God the burdens that seem so overpowering. It was my privilege to work with the late Brother Andy Reavis in Marshall, Texas. He had a little card that he would give people and on it were these words, “Leave it all quietly to God…” (Psalm 62:1-2) If you take the first step and trust in the coming days ahead you will find it easier to take other steps. God says to each one of us, “Just trust me.” Will you entrust your life into his capable hands? As you take the leap of faith, reaching out to God, you will find someone waiting who will never leave you nor forsake you or let you down. What saves a person is to take a step, a step of trust and then another step.

See you Sunday in church!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Encourager

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Barnabas is one of the most winsome characters in the entire New Testament. He possessed an old and honored name. He had been named for one of the twelve sons of Jacob – Joseph. However the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas. The same word Jesus used for the comforter which literally means “son of encouragement.” No name was ever as fine as the one given to Joseph for it tells us they type of man that he was. He brought encouragement to other people.

Encouragement in the original language carried the flavor of “to come alongside someone.” Joseph gained the reputation of someone who would come alongside others to encourage or to help them. His gifts of the proceeds of the land sale encouraged the leaders of the early church those who were in need of care in a society which had pushed them to the very limits. We see that his nickname also matched his desire to come alongside a relative who had been branded a failure. He encouraged this younger man John Mark in order to restore him to a place of honor and service. (Acts 15:36-41)

I cannot think of a more appropriate role model in our congregation. When I grow up I’d like to be just like Barnabas! I’d like for it to be said about myself that I was a person who was constantly encouraging and bringing out the best in those around me. A truly godly father has one of the most unique roles in society. He can be an encourager, a mentor, a coach, a disciplinarian, as well as a loving and caring person in the lives of his children and grandchildren.

In Acts 11:24 we read, “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” Barnabas encouraged people by his faith. He had a tremendous faith both in God as well as his faith in other people. He had confidence in people who had lost confidence or had gone through a difficult time in their own life. He did not give up on people. He was able to say just the right word to keep someone going when they wanted to give up and quit. He was what he lived. He was a symbol of encouragement, comfort, and consolation to every person he met. He was a deeply spiritual man filled with the Holy Spirit. He also was a person of great integrity and generosity. Godly character is based upon a pure heart. Integrity is still the foundation for generosity in the church. Barnabas was instrumental in bringing Saul into the early church following his conversion on the Damascus road. Would you welcome a former KBG agent to your home if you were a Russian Christian during the seventy year reign of Communism? It was Barnabas who came along Paul and vouched for his authentic faith. Barnabas stood up and verified that Paul truly had been converted and was a genuine follower of Jesus Christ and from that moment there was little or no questioning about the authenticity of his relationship to the Lord.

Barnabas was a wonderful encourager, a builder of people. There is a wonderful benefit of people building; it builds up us as well. Ask yourself: Am I truly sharing the gift of encouragement with those in my family, my workplace, as well as in the church? Jesus Christ calls each one of us to be a people builder and what better time to begin than today?

See you Sunday in church!

The Resurrection

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Everything concerning the Christian faith rises or falls on the reality of the resurrection. As important as the life, teachings, and death of Jesus is to Christians, these events mean nothing about the historical event that brought them to completion: the resurrection. The Christian faiths credibility and trustworthiness rests solely upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul said it so well, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain; you are still in your sins. And those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life, we have hope in Christ, we are to pitied more than all men.” (I Corinthians 15:17-19) [Read more…]

Sin and Forgiveness

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Something has gone wrong in our world. It is supposed to be scientifically sophisticated and morally liberated. But it isn’t. What’s gone wrong? In every major city in America the crime is up. Some people don’t like the word sin. They believe it is for the other person, not for them. But everyone recognizes that the human race is sick and whatever the disease is it has affected all of life. What is this thing called sin? The Westminster Confession defines it as, “any want of conformity to or transgression of the law of God.” Sin is anything contrary to the will of God. Sin is missing the mark. It is rebellion. Sin is selfishness. [Read more…]

Flying Closer to the Flame

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Chuck Swindoll in his excellent book, Flying Closer to the Flame, writes, “What fuel is to a car, the Holy Spirit is to a believer. He energizes us to stay the course. He motivates us in spite of the obstacles. He keeps us going when the road gets rough. It is the Spirit who comforts us in our distress, who calms us in our times of calamity, who becomes our companion in loneliness and grief, who spurs out intuition into action, who fills our minds with discernment when we are uneasy about a certain decision. In short he is our spiritual fuel. When we attempt to operate without him or to use some substitute fuel all systems grind to a halt.” [Read more…]

“Who do men say that I am?”

In Matthew 16:13-20 Jesus stops and confronts the disciples with these words, “Who do men say that I am?” It was a leading question. But a deeper more penetrating one was to follow. Lloyd Ogilvie writes, “This was not the question of an insecure leader, seeking to know how he stood in the public polls. It was a probing inquiry designed to determine the extent to which men were discovering the true nature of his mission and message.” Jesus wanted them to know the depth of their understanding of him. [Read more…]

Passion.

I’ve always been inspired by people who do what they do with real passion. They give it everything they’ve got. It seems to me that it is not worth taking on a task unless you are going to do it with all your might and be totally committed to the task at hand. We often see how people like this really put their best into whatever they do. Passion is the energy of the soul! [Read more…]

Imagination.

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Do you know how to tap into the power of your imagination? Imagination is defined as, “to form a mental image of something not present.” It is the “creative ability, the thinking of an active mind.” It is what happens in your mind when you give it room to create. It is what your mind does when you let it come alive. [Read more…]