The first time we heard the name Saul was the last scripture in Acts 7 where his name is referred to as one of those present when Stephen is martyred. Then, the beginning of chapter 8 where it says Saul was not just present but consented of Stephen's death and then went forth and made havoc of the church, going from house to house dragging men and women to prison. He was the leader of the great persecution that caused the scattering of the church throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Here in chapter 9, the focus is primarily on the transformation of Saul the Terrorizer to Paul the Apostle.
Saul was born in Tarsus, modern-day Turkey, but he was raised in the strict order of Hebraic Judaism, similar to Hasidic Jews in New York City. He was taught by a well known Pharisee named Gamaliel in the strictness of the law and was zealous towards God. Paul was a fanatic Pharisee and believed one must become a jew and obey the law to be accepted by God. So with his understanding, those of the WAY was teaching heresy, therefore were enemies of God and it was his duty to silence them.
As Saul journeyed to Damascus suddenly a great light brighter than the noonday Sun shone on him and he fell from his horse and he heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me."
We see here that there is no brighter light than that of Jesus Christ and that He knows us by name and wants to speak to us personally. It doesn't matter how deep of darkness someone is in even those in religious deception the Lord is able to open blind eyes. Our righteousness is as filthy rags even what we do in the name of God is wicked if we don't do it in the power of the person of God.
Today, it is being reported that Saul like encounters are being experienced by the thousands, especially in the Middle East amongst Muslims, even former terrorists, who are coming out of the darkness and into the light. Turning from persecuting Christians to preaching Jesus Christ.
Saul responds to God speaking to him by asking, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" This is the key to receiving guidance from the Lord, not just telling God what we want Him to do, but asking Him what He wants us to do? Our American independence is something we celebrate but it can also be what hinders our faith. Prayer should be much more about listening than speaking. Faith is an action word so prayer should lead to work more than just dumping our problems on God.
Saul was told to go to the city and that is what he did, being still blind he was led by his companions by hand. Instead of Saul going to Damascus as a captain of soldiers to imprison Christians, he is led to Damascus as a prisoner of the Lord. Paul was blinded for three days just as Jesus was in the grave for three days, that is why Paul is able to write, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Gal. 2:20)
How was Saul going to be accepted by the church considering his history? Well, first of all, the Lord revealed to his disciple Ananias by a vision that he was to meet Saul at a street called Straight, and likewise, Saul had the vision that he would meet Ananias who would help him see. Ananias knew about Saul and questioned what he saw but the Lord told him to go.
The street called Straight was significant. The only way we can walk right (straight) with God is through step by step obedience to His voice. We see that Saul was not just healed physically but was filled with the Spirit. The spiritual is more important than the physical, healing is not enough, transformation takes a spiritual awakening. We should use opportunities to pray for healing to also open ones spiritual eyes as well. Our goal should always be to lead people from the wide path of destruction to the narrow road of walking in obedience.
Here in Acts 6, we have our first cultural conflict with the early church. The Greek-speaking Jews felt their needs were being ignored by the Hebrew speaking Jews. Two different cultures often don't mix much and sometimes the issue isn't a blatant disregard of the other it is just done through ignorance. The dispersed older Jewish widows, who were mainly in Greek-speaking territories, would often return to Jerusalem so they would die in the holy city and not in a foreign land. So here it was all the early believers were taking care of each other but there was a food distribution issue with the Hellenist widows.
The Hebrew Jews only knew the needs of the people they were accustomed too for the Greek Jews often live in different neighborhoods. Just like in New York City you have people from the Caribbean living in Brooklyn but Jamaicans will live in one area while Dominicans will live in another.
So things got heated and the Apostles reasoned together how to deal with the matter. They knew their primary purpose was to teach the Word of God so they needed to devote themselves to that and appoint what they would call deacons which means servant to help the widows.
So deacons were the first appointed service role in the early church outside of the Apostles. The qualification of being a deacon was, they were greatly respected, full of the Holy Spirit and had wisdom. Today deacons are often chosen because they make themselves available and are willing to do the physical work around the facility where they fellowship. The qualifications of Elders and Deacons as described in Timothy and Titus are very similar. So the church overall today has gotten the role of Deacon wrong.
The Deacons chosen first of all were fellow Hellenists so they could identify with the needs of those they were serving. Secondly, while they may not be teaching as often as the Apostles, they still needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit and walk in wisdom. That means they needed to be ready to do power ministry and give counsel.
The Apostles at this time were the ones who had been with Jesus the longest so they had a special grace regarding teaching but the appointed Deacons who were younger in the faith still had Jesus through the Holy Spirit and they were not to limit what God could do through them.
These seven men that were chosen had hands laid on them, how often do we lay hands on deacons that they would be empowered spiritually to serve in their role. Too often only a select few are expected to be the ones walking in God's power. But, the bible says "these signs will follow those who believe......," it doesn't say, Apostles, Evangelists, Prophets, no, it says those who believe.
Deacons are closely involved with people they see the needs often before the Apostles they are not to drag a person to an Apostle to meet their need, no they are called to meet the needs of others through the power of the Holy Spirit themselves.
This early church dilemma was solved and it says many more jews believed as well as priests. These issues can halt the move of God, leaders need to quickly seek the Lord how to resolve it so that Kingdom growth doesn't stop.
The challenge: If you have limited how the Lord can use you because you have not been given a significant role such as an Elder or Pastor, repent! Then receive or re-receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit for it is for all who believe.
As we see at the end of this chapter and into chapter seven the Lord uses the deacon Stephen just like He was using the Apostles to do mighty wonders. Initially, it was the Apostles because of their extensive time spent with Jesus they had great faith but it wasn't long before faith increased in the early believers and they began to do the same works.
Acts 7 is a continuation of Acts 6 the focus being now entirely on the deacon Stephen. The leadership of the early church was no longer just designated to the Hebrew Apostles but now the Hellenistic Jews where seven deacons were appointed and out of those seven, Stephen stood out as it says in Acts 6:5 that he was "a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit." His measure of grace was further along than the other deacons at this point and therefore the one whom the Lord used in tremendous ways.
Hellenistic Jews were raised in the Greek culture and were typically more intelligent than the Hebrews and therefore able to debate and possibly lead the high-class Jews to accept the Gospel message. Peter and John were let go but these religious elites had to do everything in their power to stop Stephen for their livelihood was being threatened as the crowds continued to grow becoming more and more diverse.
In Acts 6:8 it says "Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people." So we see here again the work of deacons is not just to do manual labor. We are all vessels of the Holy Spirit and capable of releasing miracles, all it takes is faith. It then says in the following verses that Stephen was approached by unbelieving Hellenistic Jews from the synagogue of the Freedmen. They tried to debate with him as those from the Greek culture often do but since they were outwitted they responded by spreading lies that Stephen was speaking blasphemous words against Moses and YHWH. The shakeup was now way beyond just the performance of miracles it was beginning to win over the sophisticated Hellenists. So they persuaded men to be false witnesses and to approach the high priest so that Stephen could be silenced.
Every attempt of the enemy to silence His church is an opportunity to spread the Lord's message to even a wider audience. We are not to back off but rather, seize the moment, not trying to defend ourselves but just simply speak the Words of Truth as Holy Spirit gives utterance.
Stephen shining with the face like an angel does exactly that in Acts 7. See the High Priests twisted and deceived believed that YHWH was only for the Jews and that the temple was the only place where one could hear from YHWH. The only way Gentiles could worship YHWH was by becoming Jewish proselytes, which meant they had to repudiate their native culture and practice the Jewish rituals including being circumcised.
Stephen answers the High Priest revealing through the History of the Jews the real truth to counter these lies. He reminds them that YHWH spoke to Abraham in a far off country. He revealed how YHWH was with him in the land of the Chaldeans and gave him the covenant of circumcision. Also, the Lord was with Joseph while in Egypt, and Moses from a burning bush on Mt. Sinai received a message from the Lord to deliver the children of Israel from Egypt through His help. He told him to remove his sandals for he was walking on holy ground.
He reminds them that offerings and sacrifices were given in the wilderness to the Lord. David asked that He could build a house for the Lord and his son Solomon was given the favor to do so. Stephen declared that YHWH does not dwell in man-made structures quoting Isaiah 66:1-2 "Heaven is My throne, and earth is my footstool."
He is saying to these leaders who do you think you are? How can you box YHWH into a designated place? He is the Lord of the universe! He is not just the God of the Jews limited to the temple in Jerusalem.
Stephen now takes it further and calls them "stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears!" Those responsible for persecuting and killing the prophets who had announced the coming Righteous one! Hearing this, they forgot all about Roman law and took matters in their own hands unlike what they did with Jesus. Stephen kept his eyes on heaven and said to his murderers "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of YHWH!" They responded by covering their ears and rushing towards him, throwing him out of the city and stoning him, and like Jesus, he said "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" and "do not charge them with this sin!"
We learn here how to deal with persecution; we are to keep our eyes on Jesus, hopefully revealing Him to those who are against us, while holding no evil in our heart against them.
Martyrdom often leads to a greater move of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8 it says that the Holy Spirit was given for the purpose of the church to be empowered as witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. So far it was limited to Jerusalem, Judea, but after the death of Stephen, we are going to see in Acts 8, Saul was later known as Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles comes on the scene and the first evangelist also a deacon Philip was sent out by the Holy Spirit to Samaria and then supernaturally to spread the witness of Christ to an Ethiopian Eunuch.
The charge is to not limit our Christian service to a place or a certain group of people. Let's repent for our lack of witness and fear of persecution and ask Holy Spirit to take us to whom He desires; going wherever He wants us to go, doing whatever He wants us to do.
Sunday January 27
The Real versus the Fake - Acts 5
There was a story that I heard about several men who were standing around in the locker room of a local gym. A cell phone that was laying on one of the benches started ringing. A man picked it up and since the phone was on speaker mode, the rest of the men could hear the entire conversation, which sounded like this: "Hello?
"Honey, It's me. I stopped by the real estate agent this morning and asked about that house we had looked at last year. Remember? The one with beachfront property?"
“Uh-huh.” “Remember, it was the one with the Jacuzzi and the really nice deck?”
“Yeah” “Well I know you said it was out of our price range, but they just dropped the price and now they’re only asking $950,000. I was going to give them a check for $10,000 as a down payment"
“Okay." "Really? Thanks so much Honey! I'll see you later! I love you!!!" "OK Bye." The man hangs up, holds the phone up in the air and asks: "DOES ANYONE KNOW WHO THIS PHONE BELONGS TO?"
Speaking of real estate transactions:
At the end of Acts chapter 4, in verses 36 and 37 we saw this:
And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
Why did I want to go back and remind you of that? Because it’s only when we remember the context of those verses that we can make sense of what happens next, as chapter 5 begins:
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. 6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” 10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
MAN, that sounds HARSH, doesn’t it?
But from the standpoint of Peter and the other Apostles, this fraud that Ananias and Sapphira just tried to commit was a serious offense!
And it wasn’t just the church leadership who had a problem with the deceitfulness of this couple, the Holy Spirit was clearly grieved about it too! Peter would have never even known what Ananias and Sapphira had done unless the Holy Spirit had revealed it to him.
So what’s the big problem here? I would like to point out to you that the difference between what Barnabas did at the end of chapter 4 and what this couple was attempting to do here at the start of chapter 5 is that one was showing real commitment and the other was showing fake commitment.
Barnabas said, “Here’s all of the money from the sale of my land.”
Ananias and Sapphira said, “Here’s all of the money from the sale of our land.”
It was the same statement, but in one case it was true, and in the other case it was false.
Consider this: God was moving powerfully in the early church, and one sure way to slow down a move of God is to start passing off fake commitment as real commitment.
And the Holy Spirit wasn’t going to allow that.
Notice that there was an even GREATER release of the Spirit’s power that fell upon the church as a result of witnessing God’s judgment;
11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.
12 At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. 16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.
Signs and wonders, people getting healed by Peter’s shadow, healing and deliverance - As a result of what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, a holy fear of the Lord was released among the believers, a renewed reverence and a passion to walk in true holiness and true commitment. Ain’t nobody got time for that fake stuff!
The renewed commitment of these believers was causing an increase in the outpouring of God’s power! People were traveling from near and far to Jerusalem just to see what was going on!
You see, real commitment makes a real difference.
Great moves of God are found only when people are truly committed to the work of God.
Is there a cost of Commitment? Yes there definitely is.
In fact, the price of commitment is often very high – that’s why so few people are willing to pay it. And that’s why so few reap the benefits of commitment.
But look at what happens next when the apostles are asked to pay a high price for their commitment:
17 But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.
Just like many of our fellow believers in persecuted countries today, the apostles were arrested for the simple act of preaching the gospel. But once again, their commitment is a trigger for a mighty move of the Holy Spirit to set them free miraculously. And so they go right back to preaching. And this really freaks the temple leaders out!
Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. 22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23 saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. 25 But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).
Isn’t that just fantastic! “Guards, bring those men here from the jail that we arrested for preaching in the temple.” “They’re not in their jail cells!” “Where are they?” “They’re back in the temple, preaching!”
27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
When you are moving in true commitment to the cause of Christ, you don’t have to be afraid of anyone!
Let’s summarize several of Peter’s answers this way:
“We ordered you not to preach!” “I take my orders from someone higher than you.”
“You’re blaming us for Jesus’ death!” “That’s because you killed him.”
Of course these answers don’t go over real well with the leaders, until one reasonable old man speaks up:
33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
What powerful wisdom! If these guys are fake, then they will fizzle out on their own. We’ve seen other fakes come and go. But if this is a real move of God, you’d better not stand in its way!
40 They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
Look at the price that the apostles had to pay for preaching the Gospel in those last few verses. They were flogged. They were whipped. They were beaten. They were told to keep their mouths shut.
But what was their reaction?
They not only kept preaching, they actually REJOICED over the fact that their true commitment made them WORTHY to suffer for the name of Jesus! There’s nothing fake about that.
The bottom line in this entire chapter is this:
We all face the same choice as to how far we are willing to go to commit to the work that God is doing. I really can’t tell you how committed you should be, that’s between you and God.
But I can tell you this - the real problem that Ananias and Sapphira ran into was that they weren’t willing to commit to the work of God 100%, but they wanted to pretend that they were giving their all.
Let’s not pretend. Let’s decide in our hearts how far we are willing to go to see the Kingdom of God fulfilled in our lives, in our marriages, in our families, in our church, and in our community. Those aren’t necessarily easy decisions. There is a cost involved. But whatever you decide to do, commit to it! Don’t give half-measures to the work of the Lord. Don’t fake it. Give God what He deserves. And remember this important reality - our commitment to God is the key to the release of His power in our lives!
Upon the crucifixion of Jesus, the rulers, elders, and scribes of Jerusalem were so relieved expecting that the movement He began would now die out. Yet, it wasn't long after His death that they were forced to meet together to discuss what to do about the disciples of Jesus who were continuing to perform miracles in His name.
Peter and John were confronted and thrown in jail by the commander of the temple police and the Sadducees because they were proclaiming the resurrection of the dead. Pharisees and Sadducees were greatly divided regarding the resurrection of the dead, so many of the Pharisees were actually now believing in Jesus after the report of His resurrection.
Right after the scripture reporting that Peter and John were thrown in jail, the next scripture says 5000 men had come to believe in Jesus. The Lord turns the devil's works back on his head. The result of persecution is always many souls coming into the kingdom. In only a three month time believers in Jesus grew from 3000 to 5000 men. In those times it included only men because the decision the head of the household made would include women and children. So this number was more like 15,000 just in Jerusalem, as it is too complex to know the numbers in other lands from those who converted at Pentecost. This was approximately 10-20% of Jews living in Jerusalem.
This was a huge threat to the religious elite who wanted to hold onto their social status. When we keep our religion to ourselves where it doesn't have much effect on the condition of our land we will experience very little opposition. The moment it does is when all hell breaks out. Satan is fine with us as long as we stay quiet but when we bring the good news out and walk in Holy Spirit power that is when he will try to take us down.
Peter confronted with the who's who of the high priests responds, filled with the Holy Spirit and instead of him being on trial puts them on trial as those who were responsible for Christ crucifixion.
Wasn't Peter already filled with the Holy Spirit? In certain situations, our humanity can feel overwhelmed where fear cripples us, so we need to be renewed with the baptism of the Holy Spirit day to day, issue after issue. It is like drinking water, we have one drink, but it isn't long before we are thirsty again, and the hotter it is the more often we need to drink.
When they observed Peter and John they were amazed because these were unlearned and untrained men so they knew they had been with Jesus. They had not gone through the same training as them but they walked with even greater authority and knew the scriptures. Bible School is a good environment to grow but with or without it we have Holy Spirit who is our teacher, counselor, and comforter. He empowers us it is not a work of our own intellect and experience. As long as we empty out of ourselves to God, we will be filled up and that is the greatest witness. It proves more than anything else that Jesus is alive!
These leaders were threatened they did not know now what to do, they thought they could stop the movement by crucifying its leader but His power was now distributed through the Holy Spirit upon all who believed in Him and that had now gone to 15,000 and was growing daily. They told Peter and John to stop preaching but they responded we are unable to stop for we must listen to God, not you. This got them so angry but there was nothing they could do for if they imprisoned them the effect would be a riot.
Where we run too after being released from threatening situations is the key to how well we recover. Peter and John ran to there "own people," meaning their close friends in the faith. They reported to them what they went through and together instead of complaining and becoming fearful, they "raised their voices to God," reminding themselves what Holy Spirit spoke through David regarding what they went through and then asking the Lord to grant them boldness to continue despite the threats to speak His message with boldness, with healings, signs, and wonders being performed through the name of Jesus.
When going through challenges we got to remember that Christ said that all those that follow Him will suffer. Therefore we should not run from our problems but face them boldly and continue to do the work of the Lord no matter the opposition. As the disciples prayed together they had another Pentecost like experience. The combined energy of like-minded believers through prayer is an explosion.
The enemy is doing all he can to hinder us and so we desperately need group support if we are going to continue to remain on fire. The enemy hinders us by trying to keep us isolated and divided from the dynamics of group participation. An engine cannot run without all its parts placed together and neither can we unless we are are in continual fellowship with other believers. We can be part of groups but are they the right groups? Acts 4:32 says that this large group was of one heart and mind. That is the correct group, and naturally, they are hard to find, but if we are led by the Spirit, we will be connected to such ones.
A group becomes dynamic when it puts the needs of one another above themselves like a strong family. It gets to the point that what each one owns is now shared as each one has a need. When people are no longer distracted by their needs they can focus on the work of the Kingdom. When we are possessed by the Holy Spirit our possessions are no longer our own, they are just resources to be used for Kingdom purposes. This spiritual harmony created a great manifestation of the resurrection power of Yeshua and great grace was on all of them.
Group fellowship and prayer is absolutely necessary for growth and Kingdom activity. If you are struggling in your Christian walk it is because you are not getting enough support. Being part of a group is a sacrifice, it takes your time, money, and talent, yet without it, those items will not be properly utilized in the Kingdom of God. It will be like the parable of talents where punishment came to the servant who hid his talent and therefore became unprofitable.
THE CHALLENGE FROM THIS DEVOTION:
1.) Repent for allowing the enemy to keep you isolated and divided.
2.) Ask Holy Spirit what fellowship group are you supposed to be actively involved in.
3.) Make up your mind that you will remain faithful to whom Holy Spirit has placed before you until He sends you elsewhere.
Sunday January 13th
“Silver and Gold”
Acts Chapter 3
A lot of people don’t know this, but Beethoven was buried in a church graveyard. A couple days after he was buried, a man was walking through that cemetery when he heard some strange noises coming from the area where Beethoven was buried. The terrified man ran and got the priest to come and listen to it. The priest bent down close to the grave and heard some faint, unrecognizable music coming from the grave. The priest ran and got the choir director.
When the choir director arrived, he bent his ear down close to the grave, listened for a moment, and said, "Ah, yes, that's Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, but it’s being played backwards."
He listened a while longer, and said, "yes, there's the Eighth Symphony, and it's playing backwards, too. Most puzzling." He kept listening; "There's the Seventh... the Sixth... the Fifth...all in reverse!"
Suddenly the realization of what was happening dawned on the man; he stood up and announced, "There's nothing to worry about. It's just Beethoven decomposing."
Speaking of graves…
In Moscow, Vladimir Lenin’s body is kept in a crystal casket. The inscription on the casket reads: “He was the greatest leader of all peoples, of all countries, of all times.
He was the lord of the new humanity.
He was the savior of the world.”
There are two things we can be sure of regarding this inscription. One is that Lenin wasn’t the lord of humanity or the savior of the world, because he’s dead, and his body is still in its tomb.
The other thing we can be sure of is that Jesus Christ is the true lord and savior of the world, who defeated death for us all, which is why His tomb is empty!
And as we read through Acts chapter 3 this morning, we will see the power of the true risen savior being poured out through His earthly representatives, the church that He established.
In verses 1 through 10 we read about a visit of Peter and John to the temple, where the power of the risen Lord heals a man who had been lame from birth.
1One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every
day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" 5So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
6Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." 7Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. 8He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”
Peter’s words must have sounded disappointing to the beggar when he said “Silver and gold I do not have”
Perhaps the beggar wondered, “Well then, what good are you if you don’t have any money to give me?”
But then Peter continued, “What I have I give you”!
And what he had was worth a lot more than money! He took the man by the hand, lifted him up, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, he healed him.
There is a great lesson in this story.
As Christians, we are supposed to do “what we can - with what we have – where we are – at any moment”
Let me repeat that: We are supposed to do “what we can - with what we have – where we are – at any moment” and not wait for a greater opportunity or for a better time when we might have more abilities or resources.
Because money isn’t everything! Too often people think that that giving money is the only way to help a person in need. But here we see a story that clearly demonstrates that money was not the most important thing Peter had to offer.
Peter said, “Silver and Gold I do not have” and then proceeded to be used by God to work a miracle.
Whether we talk in terms of money, talents, abilities or gifts, we must all answer the same question, “What do I have to offer right now?” And another question quickly follows: “Am I willing to give myself – including my finances, my talents, abilities and gifts – to be used any way that God sees fit?”
How else will the world know that Jesus Christ has the power to transform lives?
When we read about this particular encounter we must realize that we are also faced with cripples every day – an entire crippled society – and they need the power of Jesus to set them free just as much as this lame man did.
Our Society has crippled morals, crippled marriages and crippled relationships.
Our world is crippled by perversion and pornography.
Lives are crippled by alcohol and drug abuse.
People are crippled with negative attitudes, anger, hate, resentment, bitterness and unforgiveness.
Only Jesus Christ can bring the healing they need.
The truth is that all of us, prior to knowing Christ, were crippled and in need of healing.
Romans 3:23 says “All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.
Isaiah 53:6 says “All are like sheep who have gone astray, we have turned, every one to their own way.”
We are dead spiritually and the words of Jesus recorded in Luke 13:3 state “Unless we repent we will perish”.
Like the lame man at the gate, we are helpless and powerless, spiritually crippled without Christ.
Salvation is our most basic need.
Verse 6 says that Peter healed the lame man,
“In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”
Jesus’ promise to his disciples in John 14:14 was “Whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son”.
The answer to our crippled generation is the name of Jesus Christ, not silver or gold or self-help books.
Jesus was given all authority in heaven and earth (Matt 28:18). He shared his power with the apostles, and according to Ephesians 1:18-19, all of us as believers share this power:
“18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
If we believe that then everything we do should be done in that spiritual authority.
We have the authority to lead people to salvation.
We have the authority to pray victoriously.
We have the authority to resist the devil and make him flee.
We have the authority to enforce Christ’s victory in our lives and homes and our church and our country.
Spiritual authority shouldn’t be taken lightly; it is intended to be exercised by believers who are filled with the spirit, living cleansed lives, and walking by faith.
Notice how Peter uses this healing to proclaim the power of the risen Christ in verses 11-26
“11While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon's Colonnade.
12When Peter saw this, he said to them: "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
17"Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. 19Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22For Moses said, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.'
24"Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. 25And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, 'Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.' 26When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways."
Peter explains that the miraculous healing of the crippled man was the work of the risen Christ.
And then he uses the attention that the healing has brought to bring conviction and preach salvation. He reminds them that all of us are responsible for Christ’s death because He died in our place. And he points out to them that without the resurrection there’s no hope, no salvation.
He tells them that there is no new life without repentance, but if they turn to God their sins will be blotted out – completely wiped away – and that times of restoration, of refreshment await those who come to God for forgiveness.
And he quotes from Deuteronomy 18 where Moses tells the people of Israel that when the Messiah comes, whoever rejects Him will have to face God’s judgment.
It is a simple message: hear it and be blessed or refuse to hear it and be destroyed!
Responding to Christ’s forgiveness brings untold joy; rejecting him brings spiritual ruin.
The final point that we need to take from this chapter is simply this: that true spiritual power comes through obedience. Without Peter’s obedience to God, the power of the Gospel would not have been shown, the man would still have been lame, and the truth would not have been shared.
In obedience, we allow God to provide opportunities.
Peter and John were walking in obedience - "Now Peter and John went up together into the temple..." What would have happened if they didn’t feel like going to church that day?
Because Peter and John were obedient and went to the temple as God had commanded, they were used by God to perform a miracle.
Peter knew that because he was walking in obedience, he had the power of the name of Jesus.
So he was able to make the bold proclamation,
“Rise up and walk!”
1 John 3:22 states, "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight."
There are conditions through which we receive His power - "Because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight!”
The key is obedience.
Are we living in the power of Christ because we’re walking in obedience to God’s Word, or are we lacking power because of disobedience?
We can’t expect to receive anything from God if we aren’t following Him and obeying His commandments.
Peter tells the people of Israel that “God desires not only to bless you, but to also make you a blessing to others.” The same is true for each of us.
We can expect the blessings of God to flow through our lives if we completely surrender our hearts to Jesus.
If you’ve never trusted Jesus as your personal Savior, today would be a perfect day to ask Him into your heart. He desires to fill you with His wonderful grace, power, and blessings.
If you are a child of God but have felt defeated because of your lack of obedience, make a new commitment to obey Him today.
Follow His path, be obedient in all things to His Word, and watch God transform your life.
The living savior means there is hope for our crippled world.
Ephesians 2:12 states that without Christ people have “no hope”.
They are spiritually lost, “condemned already” (John 3:18).
Not condemned tomorrow, or next year, not when they die, but now, already condemned, trapped in sin. Christ is their only hope!
But He’s all the hope they need!
Christianity has been described as “One beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”
You might not feel like you have a lot to give, but if Jesus has impacted your life in a way that gives you hope, then you can share that hope with others.
Peter didn’t have silver or gold, but he had hope. Jesus had freed him from the crippling grip of shame, and he knew that he could call upon the power of Jesus to help another man out of his crippled state.
In 2 Corinthians 1:4 we are told that…
“He comforts us when we are in trouble, so that we can share that same comfort with others in trouble.”
Whatever you’ve been through, and God has helped you to get through it, you can share that experience, strength, and hope with someone who is going through their own struggles right now.
It’s not silver or gold, but to a person who sees no hope, what you have to share with them is priceless!
HOLY SPIRIT INSTRUCTION
In order to advance God's Kingdom, it must be an act of the Holy Spirit. We must know the teachings of Christ in order to know what He is doing. As we grow in our knowledge of God's will we will now be responsible to walk it out. As we seek Him daily, instructions will now be given us, we must choose to obey them in order to work with Him to see His Kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
We now become instruments to prove to the world that Jesus is resurrected through the demonstration of His power in our lives. Daily we must humbly present ourselves to God to be empowered by Him. We bear no witness of Christ without the Holy Spirit! We can do things in the name of God but without the power of God we will end up building nothing but our own man-made Kingdom. Any fellowship of Christians that do not accept and operate in the baptism of the Holy Spirit will never fully be able to represent Him. They have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof.
Apart from union with the Holy Spirit, we can bear no fruit, we are as John 15 describes dead branches, good for nothing but to be cut off and used for burning. It is not enough to be baptized in water for the repentance of sins we must be baptized in the Holy Spirit for the empowerment to be a witness, it is not an option, it is a command! Jesus commanded the disciples to go and wait until they are empowered and they did. We daily must wait until we are empowered before we go and do anything in His name! You can tell when someone has been with Jesus because they walk in authority and demonstrate it with power. People should know we are with Jesus if they don't we should not even tell them we are Christians. We can no longer settle for the human-created Christian religion, if Holy Spirit is not in it, we need to be out!
Too many people are looking to the sky, waiting for Jesus return, too few are looking for Jesus to empower them in the here and now! I look forward to Him returning and completing His work, ushering in the new millennium, but my main concern is to be an instrument He can use to prepare the way, to reform the earth, to be a witness so nobody can say they didn't have an opportunity to believe in Him.
Do you want to live an adventurous, world-changing life then ask Holy Spirit for His instructions daily, and be about it?
LET HOLY SPIRIT LEAD
Acts 1:12 through chapter 2.
You can expect it to be special when people come together with the same purpose; being devoted to God in prayer, with no selfish agenda just hearts desiring to hear from the Lord. As the body of Christ, we need each other, there is only so much we can receive alone. We must balance our personal time with God with our corporate time! Sunday morning will not cut it, growth requires more! We need to find a fellowship of like-minded believers that we can meet together regularly.
Each believer is like a puzzle that only together can the bigger picture be seen. When we neglect Christian fellowship we become narrow-minded, simpletons. It is praying, worshipping, and studying the Bible in small groups that expand our knowledge as we receive deeper insight into the ways of God. It is in these environments that certain decisions can be made because a wider perspective is developed through the grace on each person's life. When decisions are made by one individual failure will often be the result because of a lack of foresight. It is in the counsel of advisers that decisions succeed.
It is when we unite together in prayer that the culmination of the Holy Spirit in each individual creates an outpouring Pentecost experience. It will not always be like the day of Pentecost but we can expect to be refreshed each time we meet. The key is the condition of our heart, are we just going through the motions or are we expectant? We should not be looking to man but rather our focus should be on God and how He wants to move and through who depends on His lead. If we let Him lead, we will never leave disappointed.
Whom God uses will depend on who is ready to minister out of the overflow of His presence. In this place, you walk in discernment to know the thoughts and intents of man, to be able to minister to the heart, where those who listen can be convicted and be given an opportunity to repent and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
As long as Holy Spirit is directing there will be people drawn to the Father. Man can help people make a temporary decision but God transforms lives to where a deep devotion follows. Christian leaders get frustrated because it is so hard to keep believers devoted to God, the problem is we are relying too much on ourselves and not on the power of the Holy Spirit.
We see in Acts 2:41-47 that the people who accepted the message of Peter were baptized, 3000 of them, and they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to the fellowship, and prayer. Signs and wonders followed the Apostles, the believers were together daily, joyful and humble, and they had favor with all people and the Lord added to them daily those who were being saved.
We make ministry way too complicated, it is simple, be baptized in the Holy Spirit and let Him lead in all we do, and He will do what only He can do, save souls, and make devoted followers.
Sunday December 30th
It’s been said that life is all about choices. That reminds me of the story of a Frenchman, an Englishman and an American who were exploring the jungle together when they were captured by a fierce tribe.
The tribe’s chief told them, "The bad news is that we're going to kill you, and then we are going to use your skins to build a canoe. The good news is that you each gets to choose how you will die."
The Frenchman said, "I vill take ze poison." The chief gave him some poison; the Frenchman said, "Vive la France!" and drank it.
The Englishman said, "A pistol for me, please." The chief gave him a pistol; the Englishman pointed it at his heart, said, "God save the Queen!" and pulled the trigger.
The American said, "Give me a fork." The chief was puzzled, but he just shrugged and gave him a fork. The American took the fork and started jabbing himself all over – in the stomach, the arms, the legs, the sides, the chest, everywhere. Blood was gushing from every hole.
Finally the chief screamed, "What are you doing?"
The American looked at the chief and said, "Good luck with your canoe, Chief!”
As the book of Joshua comes to a conclusion, there are some important choices that still need to be made.
Chapter 21 wraps up all of the distribution of land among the tribes of Israel, and it ends with these verses:
So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand. 45 Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.
That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? God keeps all of His promises to the children of Israel. Of course He does! End of story, right? Well, not exactly!
We are going to take a look at chapters 22 and 23 in just a moment, but first I want to jump to the end of chapter 24, with is actually the end of the book of Joshua. Here are the final verses of the entire story:
29 It came about after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred and ten years old. 30 And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, on the north of Mount Gaash.
31 Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, and had known all the deeds of the Lord which He had done for Israel.
32 Now they buried the bones of Joseph, which the sons of Israel brought up from Egypt, at Shechem, in the piece of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of Joseph’s sons. 33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him at Gibeah of Phinehas his son, which was given him in the hill country of Ephraim.
So Joshua, Joseph, and Eleazar have all passed on now, and it’s up to a new generation of Israelites to decide whether they are going to continue to follow God.
Earlier in chapter 24 we can see Joshua stating his famous pledge and challenge in verse 15:
“Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
And then all of the people of Israel replied in verse 18:
“We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”
Then Joshua makes this shocking statement in verse 19:
“You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God.”
What a downer! Why would he say something like that? Because Joshua knows these people pretty well. He has led them for many years, first alongside Moses and then on his own. He knows how easily they could turn to disobedience and fall away from following God.
If we go back to Chapter 23 we see something that is called Joshua’s Farewell Address. It could also be called Joshua’s Farewell Warning. Verses 1-3 set the scene:
Now it came about after many days, when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their enemies on every side, and Joshua was old, advanced in years, 2 that Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders and their heads and their judges and their officers, and said to them, “I am old, advanced in years. 3 And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the Lord your God is He who has been fighting for you.
Then in verse 14-16 he gives them this solemn reminder:
“Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed. 15 It shall come about that just as all the good words which the Lord your God spoke to you have come upon you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the threats, until He has destroyed you from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you. 16 When you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and you will perish quickly from off the good land which He has given you.”
This is a pretty straightforward message for the people –
Because we have followed the Lord and obeyed His commands, we have been blessed by God and have received the fulfillment of all of His promises. But just remember that if you ever become disobedient to God, you will lose out on His blessings and instead you will have to experience His judgment and His wrath.
In Chapter 22 we find out why Joshua was so stern in his warning, and just how quickly and easily these Israelite tribes could move from peace towards chaos:
10 When they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan, a large altar in appearance. 11 And the sons of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan, on the side belonging to the sons of Israel.” 12 When the sons of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up against them in war.
All of these tribes have labored together and fought together, side by side, to conquer and inherit the Promised Land. But now, as they are ready to start settling into their newly acquired lands, ten of the tribes get all fired up and ready to attack the tribes of Reuben and Gad. And over what? Because those tribes decided to build an altar on the side of the Jordan River that they didn’t own!
Most of us are familiar with Psalm 133:1, which says:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!
Well, this situation points out how UN-pleasant it can be when brothers DON’T dwell together in unity!
So then 10 chiefs, one from each of the 10 ticked-off tribes, go to the leaders of Reuben and Gad and they confront them, starting in verse 16:
“Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this unfaithful act which you have committed against the God of Israel, turning away from following the Lord this day, by building yourselves an altar, to rebel against the Lord this day?
Then in verses 17 through 20 they rant about all of the previous sins against God committed by other Israelites.
Their main point can be summarized by verse 18:
If you rebel against the Lord today, He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel tomorrow.
They use Achan, the guy who hid some forbidden stuff in his tent, as an example of what might happen:
20” Did not Achan the son of Zerah act unfaithfully in the things under the ban, and wrath fall on all the congregation of Israel? And that man did not perish alone in his iniquity.’”
Essentially what’s happening here is that these 10 chiefs are jumping to a MAJORLY wrong conclusion about this altar that their brothers have built. They think it’s a sinful act of rebellion against God, and that it’s going to bring God’s wrath down upon ALL of Israel.
However, that’s not at all what this altar is about. And now the tribes of Reuben and Gad get to explain the real reason why they built the altar, starting in verse 22:
“The Mighty One, God, the Lord, the Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows, and may Israel itself know. If it was in rebellion, or if in an unfaithful act against the Lord do not save us this day! 23 If we have built us an altar to turn away from following the Lord, or if to offer a burnt offering or grain offering on it, or if to offer sacrifices of peace offerings on it, may the Lord Himself require it. 24 But truly we have done this out of concern, for a reason, saying, ‘In time to come your sons may say to our sons, “What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 For the Lord has made the Jordan a border between us and you, you sons of Reuben and sons of Gad; you have no portion in the Lord.” So your sons may make our sons stop fearing the Lord.’
This is a very interesting and sincere concern. Remember that these two tribes had preferred settling in the land on the East side of the Jordan. They made a deal with Moses, and then renewed the deal with Joshua, that they would help the other 10 tribes conquer the Promised Land, as long as they could return back to the Eastern land when the fighting was over.
So they did their job as promised and then while they were heading back to their lands, a thought hit them – “What if, later on, the descendants of those other 10 tribes look at our descendants over here on the other side of the Jordan river and decide that our tribes aren’t part of Israel anymore because we are separated by the river?”
Then they go on to explain how this altar was designed to prevent that very problem:
26 “Therefore we said, ‘Let us build an altar, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; 27 rather it shall be a witness between us and you and between our generations after us, that we are to perform the service of the Lord before Him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices and with our peace offerings, so that your sons will not say to our sons in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.”’ 28 Therefore we said, ‘It shall also come about if they say this to us or to our generations in time to come, then we shall say, “See the copy of the altar of the Lord which our fathers made, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; rather it is a witness between us and you.”’ 29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord and turn away from following the Lord this day, by building an altar for burnt offering, for grain offering or for sacrifice, besides the altar of the Lord our God which is before His tabernacle.”
The reason that the sons of Reuben and Gad made this altar was NOT for sacrifices! It was a symbolic altar which was meant to remind their descendants, AND the descendants of the other 10 tribes, that they all worshipped the same God! Plain and simple.
Do you remember the old character named Emily Litella, played by Gilda Radner from the show Saturday Night Live? She was an older woman with a hearing problem who would go off on some completely looney rant based upon incorrect information. Like she would say, “What’s all this fuss about violins on television?”
Then, when she would be confronted with the correct information, (it’s violence, not violins) she would say “Oh, that’s very different.” “Never Mind!”
That’s kind of what the chiefs of the 10 tribes said after hearing the truth about the reason for the altar.
30 So when Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the congregation, even the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the sons of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them. 31 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the sons of Reuben and to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is in our midst, because you have not committed this unfaithful act against the Lord; now you have delivered the sons of Israel from the hand of the Lord.”
32 Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest and the leaders returned from the sons of Reuben and from the sons of Gad, from the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the sons of Israel, and brought back word to them. 33 The word pleased the sons of Israel, and the sons of Israel blessed God; and they did not speak of going up against them in war to destroy the land in which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad were living. 34 The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad called the altar Witness; “For,” they said, “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.”
Just as Joshua had predicted, the children of Israel almost blew the entire covenant of the Promised Land before they even had a chance to get settled in. And for what reason?
Jealousy, misunderstanding, jumping to conclusions, being too quick to pick a fight before the facts were fully known, assuming the worst about their brothers.
Are these issues still things that we can fall prey to today? Absolutely yes, because we are no less human than these people were.
Can we AVOID falling into these problems? Absolutely yes, because WE have the advantage of learning from THEIR mistakes!
Look at what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-6
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.
And for emphasis, he adds this in verses 11-13:
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
By studying the book of Joshua, we can learn from the example of the mistakes that they made, and we can guard ourselves from making those same mistakes.
Based on the example found in today’s verses, let’s enter 2019 with a renewed determination to avoid judging one another or assuming negative things about each other without finding out all of the facts first.
Do you want to make the coming year one of great blessings? Then listen to these words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve…you only need a heart full of grace and a soul regenerated by love.”
Are you ready to have a great year in 2019? Let’s do this together, by loving and serving one another!
Sunday December 16th
I read a story about an investigative journalist who went to Afghanistan and was shocked to discover that the women in that country were made to walk ten paces behind the men. She asked her guide why that was, and he said, "Because they are considered of lesser status." She was really outraged by this but there was nothing she could do about it so she just finished her assignment and went back home.
Several years later she returned on a new assignment to that same region and was surprised to see that the women were now walking ten paces ahead of the men. She turned to her guide and asked, "What has changed since the last time I was here?" The guide answered, "Land mines."
In exploring the relationship between men and women in God’s Kingdom, we’re going to highlight several significant portions of chapters 15 and 17 of Joshua.
Most of chapters 15 through 19 have to do with dividing up the land among the tribes of Israel, and this includes lengthy descriptions of the borders of each tribe’s territory, which we don’t really need to go over word for word. (Unless you enjoy being completely bored)
What we do want to focus on are two specific passages, one from chapter 15 and one from chapter 17.
Laurie is going to take us through the first passage.
Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; 2 only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly).
The Lord is a man of war;
The Lord is His name.
16 And Caleb said, “The one who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will give him Achsah my daughter as a wife.” 17 Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, captured it; so he gave him Achsah his daughter as a wife.
For your Maker is your husband,
The Lord of hosts is His name;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel;
He is called the God of the whole earth.
2 Corinthians 11:2
For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
18 It came about that when she came to him, she persuaded him to ask her father for a field. So she alighted from the donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you want?” 19 Then she said, “Give me a blessing; since you have given me the land of the Negev, give me also springs of water.” So he gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.
One more interesting thing about that story is that the whole thing is repeated word for word in Judges Chapter 1 verses 12-15, which isn’t really a surprise because Othniel became one of the judges over Israel after Joshua died.
The next section, from chapter 17, that we want to look at goes from verse 3 through verse 6:
3 However, Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, had no sons, only daughters; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah and Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. 4 They came near before Eleazar the priest and before Joshua the son of Nun and before the leaders, saying, “The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brothers.” So according to the command of the Lord he gave them an inheritance among their father’s brothers. 5 Thus there fell ten portions to Manasseh, besides the land of Gilead and Bashan, which is beyond the Jordan, 6 because the daughters of Manasseh received an inheritance among his sons. And the land of Gilead belonged to the rest of the sons of Manasseh.
The daughters of Zelophehad realized that if they didn’t speak up, the land that should have been their inheritance might get divided up among all of the other families. So just like Achsah in chapter 15, they let their voices be heard, and they claim what is rightfully theirs.
This episode is actually a fulfillment of a promise made by God through Moses in Numbers 27:6-7
6 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 7 “The daughters of Zelophehad are right in their statements. You shall surely give them a hereditary possession among their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer the inheritance of their father to them.”
In fact, in verse 8 God added that this didn’t just apply to these daughters, it applied to ALL daughters:
8 Further, you shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter.’
Now I took the time to count, and I found that the words “son” or “sons” occur 61 times throughout chapters 15-19!
So why are we focusing so much on these two little episodes that involve daughters?
I’ll tell you why. Because Galatians 3:28 reminds us that:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Think about this: Every woman who is a part of this church is somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister, somebody’s mother, somebody’s wife, somebody’s niece, or somebody’s granddaughter. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?
I want to share another quote with you as well. This is actually a quote from me!
It’s from an article in the Press of Atlantic City back on September 22nd, when they interviewed Pastor Josh and me for the 40th anniversary of the church.
The interviewer had asked me how the church had changed over the course of the 40 years. My answer was this:
“There is a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that said 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. That is not true at Praise Tabernacle. I believe that’s a work of God, and that He is pleased by that.”
I want to tell you for certain here this morning that God loves all of His children equally.
It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, Hispanic or Asian, rich or poor, male or female.
God loves His sons and He loves His daughters.
He has an inheritance to give to each one of us – an inheritance of blessings – an inheritance of gifts and talents – an inheritance of callings and ministries.
He wants to give us the upper springs and the lower springs. He wants to give us the fullness of what Jesus Christ purchased for us with His own blood.
Ladies, aren’t you glad today that God has such wonderful blessings to pour out upon the men of this church? Don’t you want to see them walking in the fullness of those blessings?
And men, aren’t you glad today that God has such wonderful blessings to pour out upon the women of this church? Don’t you want to see them walking in the fullness of those blessings?
You see, God has a wonderful plan for this church, and each one of us has a part in seeing that plan fulfilled.
Let’s rejoice today in the fact that God has called ALL of us to fulfill our part in His plan, and that we are called to do it together!
I am a big football and basketball fan and I love cheering for the underdog. Stories about teams that overcame uncountable odds to win, move me to tears. For example how the Eagles won the super bowl at the hands of Nick Foles, a backup quarterback who had almost quit football because of his lack of success.
The bible is full of such amazing death-defying stories. Here in Joshua 11, we see the children of Israel facing combined armies where their number was like sand on an ocean beach. This initially startled them with fear. Yet, as it says in verse 6, God said to Joshua: “Don’t worry about them. This time tomorrow I’ll hand them over to Israel, all dead.”
When God is with us and directing our steps there is nothing too big, or too strong, to overcome, “Nothing is impossible with Him.”
Those who seek first the kingdom will experience massive opposition. Satan will do everything he can to maintain his place in our territory. We must not be moved by whatsoever he throws at us, but only be moved by God. We can trust that God will increase our faith as the mountains around us become bigger.
Key to establishing Christ victory and manifesting the Kingdom of God is here in verse 15. Joshua like Moses did whatever God told him, leaving nothing incomplete.
Diligent leaders are those who complete everything that God commands them no matter the degree of difficulty. Many are those who obey God to an extent but when weary, they lose their drive and don’t finish what they started. We need leaders who will not stop until all the enemies of God are driven out of their land, and then and only then can they rest from war.
As it says in Ecclesiastes "there are times and seasons for everything," but even in times of peace where the battles cease, there is work to be done. Here in Joshua 13, though the "ites" of the land were defeated the children of Israel now needed to inhabit these territories and take claim to their inheritance or these "ites" would return. If we don't establish in the areas of victory, a right foundation, the evil spirits will return seven times worse (Luke 11:46).
Believers who are not discipled in the Word of God and who do not get baptized with the Holy Spirit eventually return to their old ways or become filled with religious demons.
Joshua had become of an old age but his time was not yet complete, the Lord told him that there was still land to take. The older we get and the less time we have on earth the more the urgency to pass on our inheritance to those who are called to receive our mantle and continue our legacy. As long as we have breath we should believe that our borders will broaden meaning our influence will increase, that we will maximize our full potential in Christ Jesus and be able to have God tell us when we leave this age, "well done, good and faithful servant."
God promised Joshua that He will drive out all the forces that would work against the children of Israel as long as he obeyed his commands. We don't want to die and leave any unnecessary burdens to those who will follow us. So we must be diligent to never rest until we have fully accomplished what God has commanded us. If we do want God asked we can rest assure that God will do what He promised.
In Joshua chapter 14 we see the land was distributed in strict accord and with the Lord’s commands.
“The Earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” To see heaven on earth the land must be given back to God. We drive out the enemies of God by becoming owners of the land. Each child of God using their portion of property according to the Lord’s particular purpose.
Caleb had wholeheartedly followed the Lord but he had to suffer the consequences of the leaders who out of fear refused to cross over, yet while they died out, Caleb lived and remained strong, and now it was his time to finally enjoy what God promised Him.
Some of God’s promises may be on hold because of the disobedience of those around us but if we remain in Christ the opportunity will come back around again. Strength isn’t about age in the Kingdom of God, it is about trust in God and faith to believe despite the obstacles.
Caleb now 80 years old felt just as strong than when he was 40 and went forth and possessed Hebron which was his promised inheritance.
Faith should increase as we advance in age, we should not be retreating, but advancing forward and taking ground. What was lost when we were young and foolish or because of having bad companions can be finally in our reach in our upper age from the lessons we have learned.
Sunday December 2nd
Recently I keep having this same dream over and over again. In the dream I’m surrounded by all of these pregnant women and they all want me to help them deliver their babies. So I asked someone who is prophetic to help me interpret the dream and he said, “It sounds to me like you’re going through a mid-wife crisis!”
In Joshua chapter 10, the people of Israel find themselves surrounded by 5 Kings and their armies:
Now it came about when Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had captured Ai, and had utterly destroyed it (just as he had done to Jericho and its king, so he had done to Ai and its king), and that the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were within their land, 2 that he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were mighty. 3 Therefore Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem sent word to Hoham king of Hebron and to Piram king of Jarmuth and to Japhia king of Lachish and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, 4 “Come up to me and help me, and let us attack Gibeon, for it has made peace with Joshua and with the sons of Israel.” 5 So the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered together and went up, they with all their armies, and camped by Gibeon and fought against it.
Sometimes we read passages like this and we don’t see any connection between such a historical record of this upcoming battle and the lives that we live day to day.
But consider this – some days doesn’t it feel like we’re being surrounded by enemies and attacked from all sides!
Look at this sample of verses from the Psalms and see if you can relate to any of them:
Psalm 17:9 - My deadly enemies surround me.
The cords of Sheol (Hell) surrounded me
Many bulls have surrounded me
For dogs have surrounded me
For evils beyond number have surrounded me
The iniquity of my foes surrounds me,
I think that most of us have experienced times when the whole world seemed to be turning against us. Maybe the five kings and their armies who were attacking us included attacks against our family, our finances, our faith, our health, and even our sanity.
As we see how this battle unfolds for Joshua, let’s think about a few lessons that we can learn from HIS battle that we can apply to OUR battle! And we can start with verses 6 and 7:
6 Then the men of Gibeon sent word to Joshua to the camp at Gilgal, saying, “Do not abandon your servants; come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites that live in the hill country have assembled against us.” 7 So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him and all the valiant warriors.
The thing I want you to grasp from those verses is simply this – You might have enemies, but you also have friends! The men of Gibeon were under the same attack as the men of Israel, and they called out to Joshua asking for help. When the forces of darkness seem to be lining up against you, remember that you have brothers and sisters in Christ who are also facing the very same battles. God has given us the gift of fellowship so that we can lean on one another and support one another in the midst of these battles.
But we have even MORE than just each other!
Look what happens next:
8 The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands; not one of them shall stand before you.” 9 So Joshua came upon them suddenly by marching all night from Gilgal. 10 And the Lord confounded them before Israel, and He slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and pursued them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. 11 As they fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died from the hailstones than those whom the sons of Israel killed with the sword.
Are you getting this picture? Joshua and his men, along with their allies, are fighting the armies of the five kings. But who is doing the most damage to these enemies? God is! He is raining down huge hailstones on Israel’s enemies!
We have to remember what David declared to Goliath in 1st Samuel 17:46-47
“This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands.”
It’s probably fair to say that God’s ability to aim hailstones at enemy soldiers while avoiding hitting Israelite soldiers is pretty supernatural. But watch what happens next:
12 Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,
“O sun, stand still at Gibeon,
And O moon in the valley of Aijalon.”
13 So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies.
Is it not written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. 14 There was no day like that before it or after it, when the Lord listened to the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel.
Wait! God did what? Yes, you heard it correctly. God made time stand still so that Joshua could complete his victory in battle before the sun went down!
Do you know that we serve a supernatural God?
Do you know that nothing is impossible for Him?
Jesus assured us of that in Matthew 19:26
And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
And do you know what happens to your enemies when you fight back in the supernatural power of the Lord? They run and hide!
Verse 17 says:
It was told Joshua, saying, “The five kings have been found hidden in the cave at Makkedah.”
That’s exactly what James 4:7 says, isn’t it?
Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
But Joshua isn’t done yet. And God isn’t done yet. So look at what happens in verses 22-27
22 Then Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave and bring these five kings out to me from the cave.” 23 They did so, and brought these five kings out to him from the cave: the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon. 24 When they brought these kings out to Joshua, Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, “Come near, put your feet on the necks of these kings.” So they came near and put their feet on their necks. 25 Joshua then said to them, “Do not fear or be dismayed! Be strong and courageous, for thus the Lord will do to all your enemies with whom you fight.” 26 So afterward Joshua struck them and put them to death, and he hanged them on five trees; and they hung on the trees until evening. 27 It came about at sunset that Joshua gave a command, and they took them down from the trees and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and put large stones over the mouth of the cave, to this very day.
How’s that for an ultimate victory?
Do you remember those verses from the Psalms that we read earlier about being surrounded by our enemies? Well now let’s take a look at these Psalms as well:
All nations surrounded me; In the name of the Lord I will surely cut them off.
They surrounded me, yes, they surrounded me; In the name of the Lord I will surely cut them off.
They surrounded me like bees; They were extinguished as a fire of thorns; In the name of the Lord I will surely cut them off.
Do you see the significance of these verses?
It really doesn’t matter whether my enemies surround me or not.
What matters is that I can defeat every one of them in the name and the power of the Lord!
In verse 28-41 we see Joshua winning at least 8 more battles! And then verse 42 summarizes everything that has happened with these words:
“Joshua captured all these kings and their lands at one time, because the Lord, the God of Israel, fought for Israel.”
That’s Joshua’s story. He was victorious because the Lord, the God of Israel, fought his battles for him.
Isn’t that our story too?
Isn’t that what the Apostle Paul is talking about in Ephesians 6:12?
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
So let me ask you a question this morning –
Are you running away in fear from the forces of darkness that are warring against you, or are you causing them to run away from you in fear?
Because that’s what you are able to do if you understand your identity in Christ.
I want you to think about this verse from Romans 8:37
“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”
What are “these things” Paul is talking about? These things that we overcome through the power of Jesus?
Paul already told us in verse 35: “tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, peril, or sword?”
Can we conquer those challenges? You know that we can!
Can we OVERWHELMINGLY conquer those challenges? You know that we can!
Did Joshua defeat the five kings? You better believe it! And then he defeated eight more kings for good measure!
That’s called an OVERWHLEMING victory!
You see, it’s not enough that your enemies turn and run and hide from you in a cave!
You need to pull them back out of that cave, step on their necks, hang them from a tree, stick them back in the cave, and roll huge boulders over the mouth of the cave!
Then you need to declare to the forces of darkness once and for all – “If you know what’s good for you, you’d better stay in that cave! Because I will no longer be afraid of your attacks!
My God has given me OVERWHELMING victory over you and anything, and I mean ANYTHING you can throw at me!”