unstoppable (part two)

God is unstoppable and what he is doing through the church and his followers is unstoppable. We’ve seen this already in the introduction to the Book of Acts. Now we will discover from the first chapter of Acts three contrasts that describe the unstoppable mission of the early church.

Not the end, but a new beginning.

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Luke ends the Gospel with death and resurrection of Jesus, but that’s not the end of the story. The Book of Acts opens with Jesus alive and with the apostles (v.1-3). Jesus gave “proofs” and Luke wants this to bolster your confidence in Jesus.

If you live in Chad and put your neck on the line working for the embassy, NGO, school or mission, if you want to wade in social awkwardness for the sake of Christ you want to know that everything about Jesus is true. Luke helps us to have doubt.

The eleven apostles are on the cusp of something brand new. Jesus gathered them together over a meal to ask them to—wait (v.4a). Wait? That’s a strange thing to say as he’s about to leave. Do you find it difficult to wait? Most people hate waiting.

Living in Chad has likely taken a bite out of my desire for instant gratification. I’ve probably become a tad more patient and crazy. Daily I wait in lines, wait in traffic, wait for the emails to upload, wait for dinner to be done, wait for the rain to stop, wait for the dust to settle, wait for the sun to come up to charge solar batteries, wait for change at the little shop, wait for the next vacation, wait for our sicknesses to cease, wait for our neighbor or local friend to finally arrive, wait for them to believe, wait for prayers to be answered…

Jesus last earthly words were wait. Yet according to Jesus there was something worth waiting for—a gift (v.4b). The Holy Spirit was to be given. Jesus promised it (cf. John 14-16). It was a promise as old as the Old Testament. God promised to renew his people and give them a new Spirit cf. (Isaiah 32:15; Ezekiel 11). The disciples stood on the cusp of this new beginning, this amazing gift—the Holy Spirit—God who would always dwell with them.

The Holy Spirit is one of the most under-appreciated, under-emphasized, underestimated, and misunderstood persons of the Godhood. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, his work, and his power there are a myriad of opinions (probably 50+ opinions here today). But. No matter your church background. No matter your theological opinion. No matter our difference we can all agree the Holy Spirit is God and he’s powerfully at work within the world, even today. (Amen!) God is not an absent landlord nor are we abandoned tenants.

The Book of Acts could be known as the Gospel of the Holy Spirit or the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. Sure Jesus and his resurrection continue to be a main emphasis in the book Acts, but throughout Acts you will see the Holy Spirit do a mighty work in the world, the church, and the people in whom he dwells. Also, this same Holy Spirit that dwelled in the apostles dwells in you today! That reality should wow you!

For a long time my relationship with God was academic and impersonal. I knew the Holy Spirit existed and that he dwelled in me and had moments of his power, but I missed the reality that he wanted a relationship with me. I was impatient with him. I didn’t know how to listen to him. I tried hard to live the Christian life without him and within my own strength. I was exhausted by rowing a boat rather than sailing in the power of the the Spirit. This image changed my identity. Rather than trying to control God, I sought to turn my sails in the direction of his leading.

The Holy Spirit is intensely relational. He dwells in you to be close to you, to help you, to guide you, to comfort you, to counsel, to empower you, to speak to you. Emmanuel—God very God—is in you. Maybe for you, today, a life empowered by the Holy Spirit is a new beginning.

Not about when, but how.

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The apostles still didn’t understand why they had to wait (v.6). They thought now should be time for the Messiah to get busy restoring kingdom. They didn’t know God’s schedule or time table. They simply wanted to know when is all that was wrong in the world was going to be made right. It was a good question, but it wasn’t the right question.

Jesus answered and in the process he changed the when to how (vs.7-8). The how is how the kingdom will grow, how we’re to wait, and how God will use his followers. Jesus said, YOU WILL be witnesses and YOU WILL be empowered. In other words, you will be participants in the advance of the gospel and you won’t be alone. In a matter of days people would flood into Jerusalem (v.5). The gospel would explode from there into the world. Jerusalem would become an epicenter of the earth shaking Holy Spirit and tremors of what happened would be felt to the end of the earth to every generation that has ever live, even 2,000 years after it began.

Jesus invites you into the how. YOU WILL be witnesses and YOU WILL be empowered and YOU WILL never be alone.

Not watchers, but witnesses.

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There is a comical moment that happens on the mountainside as Jesus ascends (vs.9-11). The apostles are gawking at the sky, “I think I can still see Jesus.” Two angels interrupt, “Stop staring. Don’t just stand there. He’s coming back you know.”

We each have different reactions to Jesus assignment. ___ I’m in! Where do we start? ___ I’m interested but unsure of where and how God could use me. ___ I don’t know many people who aren’t believers. ___ I’m still new to following Jesus; Someone else could do a better job. Jesus said, YOU WILL be my witnesses. It’s not optional. It’s not for the pastor, evangelist, or missionary type. Being a witness is not something these men chose to be, God chose it for them. It was hardwired into their new DNA as a follower of Jesus. Witnessing is not something they did, it was who they were. You will be witnesses.

Undoubtedly, the apostles were given special and supernatural power to do miracles like Jesus, but they were also given power to witness about the good news about Jesus. More often the word “power” in the Book of Acts refers to “courage” or “boldness”—risking the awkward conversation to talk about what they saw and heard from Jesus.

You stand in the same line as these apostles. You have seen and heard the same life-changing truth. You are empowered with the same power. In Luke 24, Jesus explains more fully what a “witness” does. A witness proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus to all nations. But Acts explains to us who a “witness” is. A witness is one empowered by the Holy Spirit with resurrection power.

Acts 1 has a peculiar conclusion. The disciple are gathered at a prayer meeting to replace Judas. It was sobering moment. Here was a disciple who betrayed Jesus. Judas exchanged Jesus for a few silver coins, then filled with shame he spilled his guts. Why is this story here? Why does Luke include the disciples rolling dice to replace Judas? It shows God’s sovereignty and control over evil and unstoppable circumstance to bring about salvation for mankind and it shows that God will continue to call out witnesses to spread this good news globally.

We can be like people starring into the sky at Superman flying away wishing he’d come back to rescue us. Jesus will certainly come. His mission will end. Jesus didn’t leave us alone. You might not have kryptonite, but we have something better, Someone better—the Holy Spirit.

May you follow in the footsteps of those who first followed Jesus. You and I are witnesses to something bigger than you—Jesus. You have a power greater than what you could muster up yourselves—the Holy Spirit. You are part of something unstoppable—the expansion of the kingdom of God through the church.

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unstoppable (part 1)

There are forces of nature that cannot be stopped like an avalanche, a tsunami or dust storm. There is nothing you can do to prevent these from happening. Sometimes life brings things that are unstoppable like death or suffering or pain, but not everything that is unstoppable is evil or bad.

Unstoppable is the word that comes to mind when you look at the early days of the church. Conflict and controversy threatened to wipe out the young group of disciples, religious leaders tried to muzzle their message, governments and cultures attempted to contain them, demonic forces and world powers tried to oppress them, shipwrecks and snakes sought to slow them down, persecutors intensely tried to beat, bully, imprison and kill them, but instead of killing the fledgling church it fueled a wildfire that swept across the first-century landscape. Nothing stops God and his mission. He’s unstoppable. We read about this in the book of Acts.

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The Book of Acts was written by Luke, who also wrote one of the four Gospels. Luke was “the beloved doctor” and missionary. Luke didn’t just record history; he lived it. What is obvious from his Gospel is that Luke spent a lot of time with Jesus. He ate with him, walked Israel’s countryside with him, saw him heal, heard him teach, witnessed his death, resurrection and ascension. Luke clearly showed us Jesus in living color.

PURPOSE OF ACTS

Luke’s aim was to write clearly and accurately about Jesus (cf. Luke 1:1-4). Just as Luke spent a lot of time with Jesus, what is obvious from the Book of Acts is that he also spent a lot of time with the Peter and Paul. Luke accompanied Paul on many of his journeys, he had firsthand interviews from the people and events he wrote about (much in the 1st Person). Luke was deeply loved by Paul and was with him in his final days.

Aren’t you grateful Luke’s words are preserved for us today? Aren’t you glad for brilliant and methodical minds like Luke who help us to have history with such accuracy?

AUDIENCE FOR ACTS

Luke writes both the Gospel and the Book of Acts to Theophilus. We don’t know a lot about him other than this name means “one who God loves.” There a variety of opinions that Theophilus was a distinguished friend or that Luke was referring to himself by a pseudo-name or that Luke was referring to followers of Jesus in general. He remains a mystery.

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The Book of Acts is the historical sequel to the Gospel of Luke (like LOTR to The Hobbit). Part One was the Gospel in which Luke describes Jesus’ birth, earthly ministry, teachings, miracles, death and resurrection. Part Two was Acts in which Luke describes the unstoppable expansion of the the gospel message of Jesus throughout the world.

KEY VERSE OF ACTS

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THEMES IN ACTS FROM VERSE EIGHT

First, Jesus continues to be the theme, but now in Acts Jesus will ascend and his Spirit will be at work in the church and Jesus’ followers.

Second, the Gospel—Good News of Jesus—is for all people. The gospel is for every man, woman, and child on the face of this earth. That is great news! This was earth shaking news! Throughout the Book of Acts we see how the Gospel Spreads throughout Jerusalem (Ch.1-7) to Judea and Samaria (Ch.8-12) to the Ends of the Earth (Ch.13-28)

Third, all of Jesus’ followers are his witnesses, empowered and enlivened to bring the message of Jesus throughout the earth. This is a large part of Jesus’ mission. Mission is not just missionaries reaching tribes and unreached peoples, but it is every follower empowered, engaging and advancing the gospel to every corner, cubical, campus, city, country and continent of the planet. It is something we all are a part. We are all invited.

if you are a Christian you are a part of this unstoppable avalanche of the gospel and tsunami of the Holy Spirit. Beginning with the apostles in Acts and continuing with us here and now, today.

wrecked

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wrecked: biblical truths to hold onto when life seems overwhelming

Remember summer vacations? What did you do as a child? I spent most of my summers in upper Wisconsin at my grandparents cozy cottage on Alma Lake. I loved it up there. The swims in the spring-fed lake were refreshing, fishing was superb, and fresh coniferous air was bountiful. Mmm, I can still taste dads north-woods fish fries.

There was one summer, I went fishing with dad. We puttered in our old aluminum fishing boat far from the cottage through a channel to a nearby lake. It was a beautiful day and the lake was so clear that it looked like a giant aquarium. I remember the fishing being great, however, in an instant, the situation changed. Winds picked up. Dark storm clouds rolled into sight over the tall pines. And a wall of rain was tromping it’s way across the lake.

We quickly picked up anchors, strapped on life jackets, and puttered as fast as we could back to the cottage. Our little 10hp Evinrude motor was no match for the storm. We were soon overtaken. The rain hit with a force that stung the skin. We had never seen bigger whitecap waves on this little lake as we did that day. Water from the rain and waves filled our boat and I was tasked with scooping out water because it was bogging down the boat. Needless to say we survived the storm, but we arrived to my grandparents cottage wetter than the fish we caught.

My boating story is minuscule compared to Luke’s masterful account of a storm on the Mediterranean Sea. Now, Luke is no sailor. He’s a doctor. Yet, in Acts 27. he describes with amazing accuracy the techniques used by sailors in his day to guard against shipwreck. Also, Luke weaves into the story biblical truths and themes repeated throughout the book of Acts. These are biblical truths to hold onto when life seems overwhelming. What do you do when life seems overwhelming? What truths do you hold onto?

1) GOD EMPOWERS THOSE WHO OBEY HIS SPIRIT (vs.1-20)

In the gospels, the disciples were weak and worthless, but in the book of Acts they became powerful and productive. How is that? The Holy Spirit empowered them. Power for life and ministry comes only through the Holy Spirit (vs.9-10). Real power belongs to God and is given by God. How is it that Paul perceived the voyage would be with injury and loss? The Spirit made Paul perceptive. It was already past the fast celebrating the Day of Atonement (September-October) and rarely did any ship sail between September and November because the sea was too dangerous and treacherous. Ironically, no one listened to the man empowered by the Holy Spirit and what happens is just as he said (vs.11-19).

There are two sure ways to to diminish the role of the Holy Spirit in your life and ministry. First, is to grieve the Holy Spirit (cf. Ephesians 4:30), wherein you do the things the Spirit doesn’t want you to do. Second, is to quench the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Thessalonians 6:19), wherein you don’t do the things the Spirit wants you to do. In either case, you decide to take the self-guided tour, ignore alarms to danger, and gravitate to your self-comforts when life seems overwhelming. Been there? Me too. It is a sure way to snuff out the power of the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, there are many signs given in Scripture of a Spirited-empowered life. I will briefly give three. The first is comfort. In John 14:16, the Holy Spirit is our Helper and Comforter who promises never leave or abandon us. The Spirit helps us live free from fear, worry and anxiety. Second, is heeding caution. The Holy Spirit alarms us to danger. I don’t think He does it through hunches or fuzzy feelings, but through visible road blocks (Acts 16:7) and pure conviction. Third, a Spirit-empowered life walks with confidence. For we walk by faith not by sight. We believe God can be trusted. He is faithful. He comes through. He hears us. He is with us. And that gives confidence for life and ministry.

The question a Christ-followers doesn’t need to ask is, “Do I have the Holy Spirit?” The question I must ask is, “Does the Holy Spirit have me?” It is only the Holy Spirit who fills and empowers my life and ministry. Only He opens stubborn wills, awakens darkened hearts, and makes men alive with His Word. Without Him there is no hope (v.20). Without Him I am weak and worthless like Simon doing magic in my own power (cf. Acts 8), but with the Spirit I am powerful and productive even when everything around seems a wreck. God empowers those who walk with His Spirit.

2) GOD EMBOLDENS THOSE WHO BELIEVE HIS WORD (vs.21-26)

Paul’s ship incurred much injury and loss. It’s as if the storm spanked them. And while the situation has their attention Paul speaks with boldness (v.21), saying, “I told you so.” not to continue the spanking verbally, but rather to point them to his earlier words as being a prophetic warning from God (cf. v.10).

Like all spiritual fathers, Paul wisely mixes hard words with soft words and encourages the beaten and bruised words of hope (v.22-24 “take heart”). For that night, during the storm, Jesus came and assured Paul that the storm would not incur any loss of human life. He reminded Paul not to fear because he “will stand before Caesar,” which was a promise given by Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and confirmed by many others (cf. 9:15; 23:11). If God has said something nothing can deter it. It’s a sure thing. Nothing will make it untrue. Nothing can block His promises or plans. Not even the worst winter storm at sea or persecution on land will not stop Paul from getting to Rome. And God shows mercy to all on board because He has on mercy Paul. How do God’s words to Paul encourage you to “take heart” when life seems overwhelming?

Interestingly, when Paul speaks of God, he does not refer to Him as the Creator of heaven and earth, or the God of providence, or the God who rules over the wind and the waves. He refers to God to whom he belongs and serves. Paul considered his life as God’s possession. He is God’s bondservant (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:20; Romans 1:1). It didn’t take much convincing on the Damascus road and it emboldened him on route to Rome.

Paul, with boldness proclaims that what God has said will come to pass just as He has said (v.25-26; cf. Psalm 14:1). God is exact. He always hits the bullseye. Sometimes it is less difficult to believe in God than it is to believe in God’s says. This is especially true when you voyage through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet God’s Word is sure. Like Paul, let’s fix our eyes on the end goal. (cf. John 14:1-2) For Paul, the road that leads to Rome is the road that will lead Home.

3) GOD EXTRAORDINARILY PROVIDES FOR THOSE WHO SERVE HIM (vs.27-44)

We’ve come to the eye of the storm and it gets worse before it gets better. Almost like life, eh? Here’s what happens next: the soldiers cut the ropes to their only life boat (vs.27-32), the shipmen eat their last meal and dump the remaining wheat overboard (vs.33-38), then they throw the anchors into the sea in a last ditch effort to run the ship ashore (vs.39-44a).

In the midst of the chaos, when life seems overwhelming they are able to share in God’s provisions. They are encouraged by a meal and trust God for their next. And as God said, in the end, the soldiers spare the prisoners, and Paul and all 276 people survive the storm (v.44b; “…all were brought safely to…”; cf. 28:1). God provides and keeps His promises. Isn’t that all we need to know?

Do you reflect on God’s provisions? How God has brought you safely through? I have kept journals since I was 15 years old. Sometimes I read back a year or two and observe all that God has done through difficulties, disappointments, trials, hurts, struggles, hardships and wrecks.

  • 3.2.1996 – I lost my wallet with a newly acquired drivers license on a ski trip in Colorado. I found it later hallway sticking out of a snow bank. God provides.
  • 3.2.1999 – My beloved grandma Joan had recently passed away. I lived with her a lot while growing up. She left me enough money to pay for my college tuition for the next two semesters. God provides.
  • 3.2.2003 – I spoke to a group of teens in South Africa from Psalm 1. Later that night, a friend told me that one teen girl committed her live to Christ. Today she celebrates her 11th spiritual birthday. God’s provides.
  • 3.2.2004 – My aunt Karen overdoses on drugs and takes her life. My family is broken, but open and allows me to comfort them with the word of Christ at her memorial. God’s provides.
  • 3.2.2009 – Sarah and I fast from kissing during our engagement. Not easy. God provides.
  • 3.2.2014 – Learning Arabic in Chad. Following God to the ends of the earth. God provides.

God has brought me safely through. You too, I assume. May the words “brought safely through” be a banner of truth today and in the days to come. God extraordinarily provides. Paul later writes to the church at Corinth while in Rome, following the shipwreck,

“I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.” (2 Corinthians 11:16-32)

Have you seen God empower you through His Spirit? Embolden you as you believe His Word? Seen Him extraordinarily provide for your needs? These are truths to hold onto when life seems overwhelming.

Communion Reflection: Remember what Paul did in the company of all the soldiers before they eat? He blessed the food and prayed (v.35). This is not the Lord’s Supper, but a simple meal prayer. Yet how is this similar to the meal Jesus shared with His disciples in the upper room? (cf. Luke 22:19-20) Jesus had the end goal in mind. It was His last meal before His death. In just a few short hours He would be wrecked, wrought, beaten and mocked, bearing the wrath of God in our stead. As we take communion, let’s celebrate with Paul a death march we’re all on keeping the end goal in mind.

Years ago, my wife, Sarah, wrote and sang this entitled, Shipwreck. It is so fitting to this text today. Listen and enjoy.

absolutely surrendered

Absolutely Surrendered

The day that I asked Sarah to marry me was wintery. We walked around our favorite park (also the sight of the Battle of Tippecanoe). I had everything I wanted to say scripted, but the one thing I couldn’t plan was her response. As we neared the bridge overlooking Burnett Creek I stopped and tried to engage in some sweet talk, but all Sarah wanted to do was beeline to the car because she was cold. As she began to walk off the bridge I got down on one knee and said, “Sarah, I got one more thing I’d like to say.” As she turned around I said, “Would you marry me?” Her response was not the traditional “Yes!” but her one-word answer I will never forget. She said, “Absolutely!”

Why was Sarah so willing and eager to absolutely give herself to me? It is still a wonder to me (and for you married men too)! I have a similar wonder as I read about Paul’s absolute surrender to Jesus in Acts 21. Why is Paul so committed to walk into a life threatening situation? How can I have power and passion like that for ministry? The text will answer these questions among others today.

Serve On Purpose (vs.1-16)

To give a brief background, Paul is traveling from Ephesus back to the Big Apple, Jerusalem (500 miles). He is finishing his 3rd and final missionary journey. And Luke gives us Paul’s travelogue (vs.1-3). And you thought you had it bad with 2 connections and a 6-hour layover in Paris!

What was awaiting Paul in Jerusalem was no vacation or Sunday School picnic. According to Acts 20:22-23 Paul had some clue what awaited him, ”Behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”

It’s interesting that along his journey, Christians also “through the Spirit” advise Paul not to go to Jerusalem (vs.4-12). How does the Holy Spirit give information that seems so contradictory? Could it be the Holy Spirit gave both Paul and the Christians the same information, but the application of the information was different? I think so. Paul was willing to obey the Spirits directions, but the others likely did want to lose Paul or be responsible for his martyrdom. They also might have thought, “Who wants to go to prison or face afflictions? Certainly we can help him find an easier way.”

If you were in Paul’s sandals you would have family and friends steering you towards gentler meadows too. As hard as it is to accept God’s will or calling, it is still the harder for those who love you. Now it’s not wise to ignore sound advice from spiritual leaders or blow off the opinions of your teammates or scoff at your organizations safety and security policies. You are accountable and it just might protect you from a huge blind spot. However, like Job’s friends or Paul’s friends, could one limit the work of God by holding people back from going where God is at work, even if it is dangerous or unsafe? Just something to chew on.

What was Paul’s response to the advice not to return to Jerusalem? (v.13) It broke his heart. He was ready to be imprisoned, even die for the name of Jesus. Paul knew his ultimate end. God made it clear on the day of his own conversion (cf. Acts 9:15-16 “he must suffer for the sake of my name”). Paul knew his purpose and it was worthy of his life and death. Paul had zero leashes attaching him to this world. No earthly ambitions anchored him down. For early he said, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24) The first mark of absolute surrender is to serve God on purpose no matter the cost.

If you are married you probably remember your wedding day and the honeymoon bliss. Ours ended about 2-days after the honeymoon when Sarah and realized we couldn’t spend 24-hours a day together anymore. If you are in the ministry you probably went into the ministry because God did an amazing work in your life and you wanted other people to know Him too, no matter the cost. Then life happened. Honeymoon over. The daily routine became taxing on your time limiting ministry. Your team tasked you with doing certain projects that you did not enjoy or feel skilled to accomplish. You became so busy by the demands of people, and all sense of privacy was eliminated. Transition or conflict with colleagues was disheartening. And through the months and years your original calling and vision for ministry has weathered.

Doing ministry can often separate you from the reasons you went into ministry. As Mike Breen said so well, “We are so addicted to and obsessed with the work of the kingdom, with little to no idea on how to be with the King.” How can it be that you can serve God and spend yourself for Him yet become so tired, hallow, burnt, even distracted from your original call to ministry?  It is good to come back to the reason you came to the field, to the One who called you, gifted you, sustains you, and gives you purpose to wake up each morning and walk out your gate.

Paul is very intentional and purposeful about what he does, he’s not dissuaded by the opinions of others, he has no limits on following Christ, and he serves on purpose for the sake of Jesus’ name. It took a bit of persuasion, but Luke and the others gave Paul over to the “will of God.” (v.14) And Paul continues his death march (v.15-16) enjoying one last night under a friendly roof.

Endure False Accusations (vs.17-36)

As Paul arrives in Jerusalem the first person he meets is pastor James, the half-brother of Jesus. Ah, missionary-to-pastor we all know where this conversation is going, but notice Paul doesn’t talk about numbers of converts or churches planted, he only spoke about the things the Lord had done (vs.17-20a).

James on the other hand talks numbers. He then introduces Paul to rumors related to his teachings or lack of teaching certain truths among the Gentiles (vs.20b). What is most striking in this passage is how Paul responds to rumors and false accusations upon his ministry. There is much you and I can learn from his example:

First, listen to the accusations (vs.21-22). Initially Paul says nothing. He keeps his lips zipped. Luke doesn’t record any immediate reaction from Paul. He simply listens to James and takes in all the details.

How do you handle it in the ministry when you are falsely accused? Are you quick to deny, defend, or devour? How do you respond when someone says something about you that is not true? Sometimes the biggest attackers to your ministry aren’t your neighbors, but your own brothers and sisters. Christians have a bad reputation for gunning down their own.

During my second year as an assistant pastor I was presenting a vision that the leaders had spent many months praying and fasting over. The desire was plant sister churches in our area. The idea was birthed from Scripture and we desired to be a church that not only reached our Jerusalem and uttermost parts of the world, but also our Judea and Samaria. Following my presentation a lady stood up and said, “Why should a church of 200 people think about planting another church when I have a hard time staffing our Sunday School classes. You are obviously a shepherd who doesn’t care about the sheep. You are leading our church astray.” She then proceeded to list every peeve she had about me as a young pastor which were many.

She might have made some valuable and helpful remarks, considering I was such a green leaf just out of Bible College with fresh ideas, but all her arguments were voided due to the character bombs she dropped. It was like she threw a grenade loaded with shrapnel aiming to shred my character, reputation, and ministry. Thankfully an elder also stood up and became a shield to my defense. She continued to spread rumors about my teachings and made many false accusations about my character. I was crushed and hurt. What was even more painful was her unwillingness to meet together or accept Matthew 18 counsel. The elders of our church prayerfully asked her to leave the fellowship.

Second, obey the advice of wise spiritual counselors (vs.23-26). When James asks Paul to cleanse himself he does as he is told. He doesn’t have to do what they are asking, but he goes the extra mile to help diffuse the situation. And it worked, but only for a few days.

Third, humble yourself (v.27-36). Can you hear the attacks and exaggerations given Paul? None of which are remotely true, yet despite the lies Paul responds with gentle and humble obedience to the authorities. There is no mistake that Paul’s response is similar to Jesus during his trial and crucifixion. What he is modeling is how the least of these can be the greatest of these. Humility displays the greater man and is one of the greatest defenses when under attack.

How do you respond when attacked? God never promises serving Him will be easy or that everyone will respond fairly, but he does promise to stand with you in the face of accusation. As you endure accusation with the gentleness and humility of God you mimic Jesus. And Jesus is glorified when you turn the other cheek for the sake of His name.

Testify in the face of opposition (vs.37-40)

Paul has more than a black eye and bloody lip. He was beaten within an inch of his life (vs.37-40). He doesn’t fight back with fists, but he really desires to use this as an opportunity to tell them about Jesus. He goes on to tell His testimony of how Jesus transformed his life (Acts 22:1-22); giving one of the great defenses of his life. Even in the face of opposition, Paul is eager to testify the name of His Savior (cf. Acts 23:11).

When ministry gets rough, go back to your conversion and call. Relish in returning to your story often. Fall in love with Jesus all over again. I came to Christ at the age of 12, I gave my life completely to Christ. When I reflect on my story I am floored by the miraculous grace of God. How God plucked me out of a dysfunctional family born to two teenage parents and plucked me out of a lifestyle addicted to self, lust, and people pleasing. Those who know me best see the life-transforming power. It’s a power I want others to know about too.

At the communion table in the upper room just hours before His crucifixion Jesus told His disciples what would happen to Him for the sake of their salvation. He broke bread and passed a cup of wine. Then he said, “Whenever you gather together do this in remembrance of Me until I comes back again.” And indeed, our Bride Groom will come for us, His Bride, may we with one voice say, I am yours “absolutely” now and forevermore (cf. Revelation 22:17-20).

Maybe it is time to keep on your knees once again. Raise your flag of surrender. Surrender all to your Love beginning with your life, family, children, and ministry.

6 Essentials for Proclaiming the Gospel

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I have read dozens of books on evangelism. I have sat in conferences and seminary level courses on how to share my faith. I have equipped churchgoers with tools to present the good news to neighbors, strangers, and foreigners. On paper, I have a lot of knowledge and experience sharing the gospel, but in reality I still feel inadequate when it comes to personal evangelism.

I find the Book of Acts an indispensable and encouraging guide for proclaiming the gospel. It is heads above all other resources on evangelism available today. I am able learn all I need to know to share the gospel in the 21st Century by how 1st Century church did it. Acts is filled with case studies, one of which you and I will study together today. In this case study, I will share six essentials for proclaiming the gospel by plagiarizing another mans sermon, Paul’s sermon that is.

1) Stand in the midst the lost (Acts 17:22a)

Our text begins with “Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus,” literally it means “high place” and it rests above the city of Athens on top of Mars Mill. It was sort of a temple to the human brain, a forum for philosophical talks. Why would Paul stand in the middle of a crowd of philosophical eggheads? To understand Paul’s present situation you need to go back in Acts and hear the undergirding motivation for his trip to Athens (cf. 9:15; 16:10; 17:16ff). What you discover is that Paul has a deep rooted, God-given burden for people to hear the truth about Jesus. His burden for the lost leads him to stand in the midst of the lost.

You might ask, why doesn’t my heart beat for the lost, like Paul? Why do I struggle so much just to love my neighbor? Remember, a burden for the lost is birthed and nourished by the Spirit of God setting your heart blaze for the lost.

Charles Spurgeon said,

“The Holy Spirit will move them by first moving you. If you can rest without their being saved, they will rest, too. But if you are filled with an agony for them, if you cannot bear that they should be lost, you will soon find that they are uneasy, too. I hope you will get into such a state that you will dream about your child or your hearer perishing for lack of Christ, and start up at once and begin to cry, ‘God, give me converts or I die.’ Then you will have converts.”1

Undoubtedly, you have a burning passion for the gospel, however, one must never assume that just because one serves God as a career that you are actually living out the gospel or proclaiming it often and well. When was the last time you stood in the midst of the lost and spoke about Jesus? Does your heart ache for the lost? Will you die if God doesn’t give you converts? Stand among the lost.

2) Know the people to whom you are speaking (17:22b-23a)

Paul was in Athens, the seat of the worlds intelligentsia. It was home to philosophical legends like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno who have influenced human thought ever since. In Paul’s day, Athens was a city in philosophical flux, particularly between two parties of thought: the Epicureans (pleasure seeker) and Stoics (long-sufferer). Both quests for truth were polar opposite, and therefore, truth was thought of as unknowable, yet the people continued to spend their days talking about the newest philosophical fads at Areopagus (v.21). Athens was Starbucks on Steroids!

Paul knew the people to whom he is speaking because as he toured Athens he took good notes. He walked in the shadow of the Acropolis. He saw temples filled with a smorgasbord of gods. Upon invitation by the local philosophers, he said with kindness and clarity, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship…”

Are you a learner of people around you? What do you observe about their beliefs and culture that are different or even similar to yours? How would you describe their God? In their words and deeds, how do you see their beliefs lived out each week? How are they struggling? What questions are they asking? What do you observe?

Now you will never know another culture completely like you know your own, however if you walk around, sit with people, and ask questions you will learn a lot. Yesterday, I sat with a father who lost his 4-year old son through an unexpected accident. The boy who was sleeping on a mat when in the night a car backed over the boy crushing him to death. I regarded many men come to my neighbors mat, greet him politely, and then each guest proceed to repeat short prayers. I heard these prayers at least a dozen times within the 10-minutes that I sat with him. I was broken for him and the others who were praying. I perceived they are very religious.

3) Seize interest in the gospel by using common ground (17:23b)

Interestingly, Paul doesn’t rest with just learning about people and culture, he turns his observations into a provocative statement. Can you imagine ears perking up? Especially, as he says, “I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…” Paul seizes their interest by using the one thing he has in common with the Athenians. What is their common ground? Worship. Paul sees at the heart of Athens is a quest to understand life, a desire to find meaning and significance, and a hunger to worship, even if they did not know exactly what it was they were worshiping. Isn’t that the quest of all men? People want to know what matters most. People want to worship something or someone bigger than them. Worship is at the heart of the matter.

Albert Einstein echoes this in his 1932 credo,

“The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all there is.”2

A.W. Tozer clarifies Einstein’s words by saying,

“Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring and awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause (the ultimate truth), but which we call Our Father Who Is in Heaven.”

Paul uses worship as a springboard to say, “This unknown God that you worship. Yeah, I know Him. And you can know Him too. This God you say you cannot know, in Him, I live, I move, I have my entire being.” It’s an audacious statement Paul makes and in a sense he says, “I know God, therefore, I know Ultimate Truth.” How is Paul so confident that God knowable? He met Him on the road to Damascus (cf. 9:5).

I find that the religious culture I live in can be accurately summed up by this phrase, “ignorantly worshipping an unknown God.” My heart is burdened when I see people praying to a God they do not believe is unknowable just to continue with religious traditions and expectations. My neighbor believes that if God wills he will go to paradise one day, but he will never really know the God that He is praying to, but I’m sure that he will always pray. A religious façade has become his god. The form of his worship becomes more important than the one he is worshiping.

Listen, if your faith is not rooted in Jesus Christ, you too are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If your daily life would go on as normal if God were no part of it, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. When your devotion lies in the practices of your church or tradition rather than the person of Jesus Christ, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If your knowledge of how to worship exceeds your knowledge of who you are worshiping, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If the gospel ceased to be your sufficiency, dependency and satisfaction, you are ignorantly worshiping and unknown God.

4) Make sure your message is saturated in Scripture (17:24-29)

Have you noticed that Paul’s sermons are saturated with Scripture? What Paul understands it that the power in a message is always in the Spirit of God through the Scripture. Paul is not the authority, he has another authority. Scriptures are his authority. In short, Paul will use the Scripture to give the Athenians a crash course on God 101. And without a doubt, this is one on the most beautiful treatises on God in all of Scripture.

  • God is the omnipotent Creator (v.24a). Your world begins with God, not you.3
  • God is omnipresent (v.24b). You cannot limit or localize God. He doesn’t dwell in tiny hand-made shrines,4 He dwells in hearts.
  • God is completely self-sufficient (v.25). God doesn’t depend on us; we depend on God for everything.5 This is the most humbling verse in Scripture and a good verse to remember as you serve others.
  • God is sovereign sustainer and ruler (v.26). He is intimately involved within history and geography.6
  • God is a gracious pursuer (v.27; Romans 1:19-20). God has placed within each man a GPS (Godward Pursuit System), a homing beacon that is questing for the Most High.
  • God is a revealer (v.28a). God imprints Himself everywhere, even in secular poetry and art (creation and heart).
  • God is the life-giver (v.28b). God is the Father of all humanity.
  • God is eternally priceless (v.29; Romans 1:22-23). People make idols of God from precious things because they have a high view of God, but He is incomparable to any object or form.

Why does Paul give this treatise on God and His character? Remember, when Paul entered Athens, he was provoked within his spirit when he saw the city full of idols (v.16). He was deeply torn and his heart stirred because the God of Scripture is stirred by idolatry too. God is jealous and angered and does not share His glory with another. He is provoked to crush any substitute, “high place”, or Areopagus in this world and in your lives. God alone desires the high place because He is the Most High God. The Scripture says there is no adequate substitute for the living God.

5) Boldly proclaim the whole gospel: call for repentance (17:30-31a)

As Paul presents the living God to Athens, he doesn’t just say “Believe in Him.” Yes, belief in God is critically important, but it’s not the whole gospel. Many people believe in God, but it doesn’t change their life. That’s why Paul, like Jeremiah, walks into an idolatrous hot bed and proclaims, “Repent!” He says, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed.”

Who is “the man God has appointed to judge the world”? Jesus. Jesus is the blazing center of Paul’s gospel. Jesus is what makes the gospel shine. Athens could no longer claim ignorance or hide from the light. They were now cognizant of Christ, the Judge, and they stood before Him guilty and condemned (just as are those to whom you share the gospel). Yet Paul gave them a life-changing proposition: humble yourselves before Jesus and repent. If not, now, when? When Jesus judges you on the fixed and final day? It is better to face Jesus today as Savior than tomorrow as Judge.

6) Proclaim the gospel expectantly, but leave the results to God (17:31b-34)

Notice the different responses to the gospel? (vs.32-34) Not everybody responds with immediate repentance. Some doubt (mock), some wait to hear more, and some believe. We find out that at least two women were changed by the gospel, including a member of the Areopagus council. Even if no one believed, the mission to Athens wasn’t a failure. God be praised!

God calls us to proclaim the gospel (v.31b); he doesn’t call us to convert people. God holds us responsible for faithfulness; not fruitfulness. He calls us to scatter seeds, water and till peoples souls; not harvest them. Paul was simply a vehicle—a voice box of the truth. It took the Holy Spirit to convince people of that truth, it is the Spirit that opens eyes to have faith in His Son, like Lydia (cf.16:14). Conversion is the work of God and God alone. We can expect results in good faith. So let’s do God’s work in God’s way with God’s power and leave the results to Him.

In high school, I worked at Schmidt Sporting Goods. It was a great high school job. I got sweet deals on new shoes, Packer gear, and I got to watch sports while working. It was also a great opportunity to mingle with many unbelievers. During the evening shift the customer flow would slow and I’d have time to talk to other employees. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever see a breakthrough. No one ever came to church with me. No one repented and turned to Jesus. However, 10-years later, long after our days working together, I got an email from a fellow employee. He shared a story from that summer. He jump out of a boat into a murky lake. Unknowingly the water was shallow and he snapped his neck. As he lay in the hospital paralyzed he recalled our conversations at work, he also had another close friend who was shared the gospel with him regularly. He gave his life Christ that summer. The seed I planted, another watered and tilled, but God opened his eyes and produced a harvest.

You might not see the results of the gospel in your lifetime. Keep sharing. Continue praying. Never give up.

Barnabas: gospel encourager

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”…and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:22b-24)

Before we unpack those verses, let’s backup and gather what Acts says about Barnabas and in turn what we will gather is an blue print of a gospel encourager. Interestingly, in Acts 4:36, Barnabas didn’t enter the world with that name. His Levite parents gave him the name Joseph. It was later the apostles nicknamed him “Barnabas” or literally “son of encouragement,” which was a name he earned and owned. So what makes Barnabas or anyone a gospel encourager?

gospel encouragers are generous givers (Acts 4:32-37)

Luke’s first reference to Barnabas is an illustration of his generosity. He is so transformed by the gospel that he take action to spread it to others. He, among others, sell property and give the money to the church. Now in his day, property was ones greatest asset and retirement plan. For Barnabas, selling his property was not wasting his future, but investing in the gospel so that others might have a future with Christ. He lived in a way that showed he was free from money or things. Why? God trumped stuff. Barnabas was generous because his God was generous.

Are you someone who is free from money or things? Are you characterized as being generous? You probably know someone like Barnabas, a “son or daughter of encouragement”. Like you, Sarah and I have seen God provide for our family via Barnabases who have “sold their land” so we could go to the nations. We are so blessed to have many generous partners in the gospel (cf. Philippians 1:5).

gospel encouragers gravitate towards outsiders (Acts 9:26-30)

In Acts 9, Saul, becomes one of the most unlikely Jesus follower. After his conversion, he travels to Jerusalem to meet other followers. However, the whole church freaks out. It is Barnabas who helps the former terrorist of the church take his first steps into the church. Barnabas is the kind of guy you want in your church greeters ministry because he proactively encourages and engages with outsiders.

Don’t forget that your journey began as an outsider and “enemy” too (Romans 5:10). It is only through the gospel that you became an insider and friend with God. And it is by the gospel that you can find the greatest encouragement in life, both now and for all eternity. And top it off God uses people to be vehicles of His encouragement.

Who was your Barnabas? Who brought your inside the church? Mine were Mike Huseby and John Miller. They were the first men who encouraged me as a young Jesus follower. They showered me with love and Christ-like affection. They discipled me in the Word and encouraged me by creating opportunities to serve with them in the local church. I am eternally grateful they befriend me as a broken and messed up middle schooler!

Jesus was a great example of one who made friends with people on the fringe. He was a magnet to broken and needy outsiders. He lovingly gravitated towards outsiders. And you and I become more like Him when we see people as He sees them. Don’t underestimate the power of the gospel to transform outsiders. Who knows who the He might want you to befriend? Who knows who the Lord might use to build His church?

gospel encouragers see no boundaries to the gospel (Acts 11:19-23)

For the first time, in Acts 11, the gospel reaches the big city (vs.19-20). Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Think of it like Chicago compared to NYC and LA. It was nearly 10 to 20 times the size of Jerusalem and also more urban, pluralistic, and multicultural. A perfect place for the gospel to flourish.

History and perspective shows us that this was a wonderful thing, as you and I are the byproducts of the gospel spreading beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem and Judaism. Acts says that the church at Antioch was experiencing exponential growth. In fact, it saw the greatest expansion to the church since Pentecost. Therefore, the mother church in Jerusalem, decided to send a representative to Antioch. Not to see if their reports were embellished, not to see if their theology was orthodox, not to gain new church growth strategies, but to encourage the church, like a mother encourages her children.

Who does the church call? Who else, but Barnabas, the one-man-encouragement-committee (vs.21-22). Barnabas was an excellent choice to bridge the Greek and Hebrew members of the church. Having come from Cyprus, he was not a typical “Jerusalemite” Jew, and he already established a solid reputation for generosity and encouragement and, after all, what do new converts need more than encouragement?

When you need a word of encouragement who in the church do you call? Who is your Barnabas? Moreover to whom are you a Barnabas?  Ben has been my friend and Barnabas since middle school youth group days. What I still love about Ben is that he encourages me not in a way that strokes my ego, but in a way that challenges me, sharpens me, and points me to Jesus.

God created you for one another-ness and to encourage one another. Yet some Christians think that since they don’t have the “gift of encouragement” it gives them an excuse from being encouraging (Romans 12:8). Some Christians think a “critical spirit” is another gift of the Spirit, but the Christian army has a dreadful history of shooting down it’s own.

Are you someone who tends to be critical of the church? Do you crave the encouragement that another Christian is getting? Do you regard the ministry of others with envy or jealousy? Do you struggle with skepticism towards testimonies of God’s work around the world? Let it be known, almost all so-called constructive criticism towards the church is destructive criticism. There is such a thing as constructive criticism, but it is always saturated in a spirit of encouragement. That is what is to love about Barnabas. He arrives in Antioch, he sees the grace of God, rejoices, and cheers them on towards faithfulness (v. 23).

gospel encouragers mimic Jesus, the True Barnabas (Acts 11:24ff)

Luke’s living eulogy of Barnabas in verse 24 is moving and theologically pregnant. It should not be a surprise that the marks of a son of encouragement mimic the Son of God, the True Barnabas.

First, a son of encouragement is praiseworthy (“he was a good man”). Luke used this phrase only of Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50). It’s not a phrase stroking Barnabas’ ego, as in saying, “Good job, Barnabas. He da man!.” Not that those compliments are wrong, but this phrase speaks to a greater goodness. Paul later writes that goodness is a fruit of Spirit (Galatians 5:22). And Jesus said that you can tell the type of tree by looking at its fruit (Matthew 7:16). What is hanging from Barnabas’ branches are good fruit produced by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Second, a son of encouragement is powered by the Holy Spirit and proven faith (“full of the Holy Spirit and faith”).6 The fullness of the Holy Spirit and faith is the root of Barnabas’ goodness. You don’t get the Holy Spirit because you are good, rather when the Holy Spirit takes over your life He infuses you with His goodness. Galatians 3:2 asks: “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” The assumed answer is “faith”. Then Paul asks, “does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (3:5) And again the assumed answer is “faith”. Barnabas’ faith is from and through the Holy Spirit.

Third, a son of encouragement is productive in bringing people to Jesus Christ (“and a great many people were added to the Lord.”). Gospel encouragers full of the Spirit and faith usher people to Jesus.

Why was Barnabas so encouraging? He knew the “Father of mercies and the God of all encouragement” (2 Corinthians 1:3). He knew the All-Sufficient Encourager and it was His Spirit that changed Barnabas into a “son of encouragement”. Like Father, like son. Let us aim to be sons and daughters of encouragement too.

It was at that point that Barnabas likely thought to himself, “These people need to grow deep and wide. I know just the guy. I’ll go get him.” Thus, “Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul” (v. 25). The verb “to seek” used here indicates that Barnabas was going on a difficult hunt; nobody had a GPS read on Saul’s exact whereabouts. The last Barnabas had heard about Saul was that he was somewhere in and around Tarsus. So Barnabas went to seek Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.

The church and mission field need people who can take the ministry forward, but it also needs humble people who can spot the very people that God is calling. That isn’t always easy. Barnabas does a selfless thing. He didn’t decide to feather his nest. He didn’t desire to build an empire or church bearing his name. He didn’t become a celebrity disciple, pastor, or missionary. What he did was to give Saul a job.

“So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (v. 26). Up until this point in church history, Jesus followers had been called “people of the Way”. They were not known as Christians because the term was derogatory and mockery, but those in Antioch welcomed it as their identity. For the gospel has the power to bring together diverse people and erase biases or boundaries.

Being Barnabases is not about encouraging with warm and fuzzies. Gospel encouragement brings hope to the suffering and hurting (vs.27-30). Barnabases actively live out the gospel by helping people see how their situation fits into the bigger picture that God is painting.

It is your joyful commission to be a gospel encourager. How? By being a generous giver, giving abundantly, cheerfully, and sacrificially for the sake of the gospel. Second, gravitate towards outsiders, hospitable to the broken and needy. Third, see no boundary to the gospel because the gospel transcends culture or ethnicity. Fourth, mimic Jesus: good, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and bringing people to the Lord. Being a messenger of hope, never doing ministry alone, and humbly equipping others to serve the local church. How will you be a gospel encourager to someone this week?

How does gospel encouragement and communion mesh? One of the ways we encourage each other as Christians is gathering together. Like two burning hot coals, together they are encouraged, but separated they burn out quickly. In other words, to stay apart or to not relate with fellow Christians has the opposite affect to encouragement. It leads to discouragement.

”And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Communion as its name signifies is a community meal for mutual encouragement until Jesus returns (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). No matter if you are rich or poor, new to the faith or established clergy, we are all equals.  Communion is not about me and Jesus it’s about “we” and Jesus. That’s gospel encouragement.

God’s grace uses people as His intruments

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Saul’s conversion was a miraculous display of God’s grace. Jesus, the commander-in-chief of the universe, intersects with Saul on the Damascus road. There is no doubt that only He could change a soul like Saul’s. And Jesus isn’t finished with Saul. Grace isn’t a one time thing, it’s given for a lifetime of transformation. It’s a gift to be given again. In the next few verses, God’s purpose with Saul will be outlined to a little known Jesus-follower will give Saul another touch of His grace.

Who is the little-known disciple? Ananias (Acts 9:10a). How does Ananias respond to God’s initial call? He too, like Isaiah and Saul, expresses his willingness to obey God (v.10b; cf. v.6; Isaiah 6:8). What does God ask Ananias to do next? God doesn’t give any details about what had just happened to Saul, but asks Ananias to meet Saul at the street called Straight (i.e. Main St.) and touch him (vs.11-12).

Do you wonder what was going on in Ananias’ mind? Now, think about your response to a man of Saul’s reputation, “Lord, maybe we need to rethink this…Saul is coming to imprison me…maybe leaving him blind would be a good idea…at least long enough for me to pack my bags and get out of town…” This response isn’t far from Ananias’ (or the church) response (vs.13-14; cf. vs. 21-28). Have you ever questioned or challenge God’s demands upon your life? If so, you are not alone. Many biblical characters have done the same thing (i.e. Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah). God accepts questions, but will you accept His.

Notice the how God responds to Ananias’ questions: He is gracious, not harsh, but firmly commands Ananias to go down the street (v.15a) and He gives him insight for the journey. What does God say about His plans for Saul? (v.15b) By His sovereign grace, He chosen Saul and will use him as an instrument to take His name to to the Gentiles, to people in high places, even to His people. What does it mean that Saul is God’s “instrument”? He will be a tool or vessel in God’s hands to increase and expedite the gospel message to the uttermost parts of the world.

God always errs on the side of grace and so should we. Grace is seen in Ananias first face-to-face with Saul. How does Ananias greet him? He calls Saul, “brother” (v.17). What more intimate term could you think of? It’s as if Ananias says, “brother Saul, the Lord has sent me so that you may regain your sight. Once was a day that Jesus opened my eyes too.” And the intimate touch of Ananias hand healed Saul’s blindness (vs.18-20).

God uses reluctant Ananias as His ambassador. God gives him a vision to share the gospel with someone he really is not comfortable. He’s heard of Saul’s reputation, and knows he could be walking The Green Mile. I can relate to Ananias. I tend to be timid. I fear the unknown. I doubt or question God’s grace. Yet His grace is sufficient everyday. He carries my feet outside the gate. He opens my mouth to speak with feeble French and ever more amateur Arabic. He uses me as His instrument to proclaim the name of Jesus.

God’s grace is on display today through your life. It is an example of grace to those around you just as Saul’s conversion is an example. Later, Paul reflects on this with his young pastoral student, Timothy,

“I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost [chief, first place]. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Timothy 1:12-17]

In the words of R.C. Sproul, “Just minutes before his conversion, all that Paul could think of was what he could do to Christ, but immediately after, all he could think of is what he could do for Christ.” That’s grace on display!

Coming Soon…

Part 1: God’s grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone (2-weeks ago).

Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion (last week).

Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments (today).

Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood (next week).

God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion

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With a flash like lightning, God intersects with Saul (and his entourage). “Now as [Saul] journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him.” (v.3) It was an unexpected encounter. It is interesting, unlike many Christians, Paul never links his conversion to a long process of God convicting or frustrating him of sin or stories scaring him out of hell. All those things may have happened in the instant he fell to the ground.

As Saul lay there on the ground, what did God say to him? First, He says in Hebrew, “Saul, Saul.” (v.4a) God singled out Saul by name. Fifteen times in Scripture names are repeated (i.e. God>Abraham, God>Moses, God>Samuel, David>Absalom, Elijah>God, Jesus>Martha, Jesus>Jerusalem, Jesus>God), which was used to gain attention or warning. Second, God says, “Why are you persecuting Me?” (v.4b) Notice He doesn’t say, “Why are you persecuting My people? Why are you such a bull?What’s wrong with you?” We discover in verse 5, the voice of God identifies Himself as Jesus. And Jesus clarifies that the persecution Saul is inflicting is ultimately against Him (v.5). In other words, Jesus is saying, “If you persecute My people, you persecute Me.” Those words bring such comfort to those suffering persecution for His name sake.

Notice how Saul responds to Jesus. He’s not passive nor is he defensive (v.5). He knows the voice is the Sovereign One of heaven. I can image Saul is as white as a bleached sheet and under the tremendous conviction of all his crimes. Yet in that moment, God’s grace is sufficient for Saul. It is also sufficient for your weakness too.

When I consider Saul’s conversion, it gives me courage to speak about the name of Jesus with friends and family. Their salvation might not happen immediately, but it might happen suddenly. Like My Grandpa Dale. He was a generous and kind man, he didn’t have many enemies (and he worked for the IRS). I’d share the gospel openly with him, since I was a teenager. He would listen intently, but normally respond saying, “Justin, that’s good, but I am happy being Catholic.”

A few years ago, Gramps called me at the church. In his quirky way he’d say, “Hey Huttshead. You’re a counselor, right? I have two questions for you: First, what do you think about me and my girlfriend living together? Second, could you tell me again how you think one gets to heaven?” His questions caught me by surprise. I answered his first question, letting him know I would rather see them marry, but that dearly I loved him. We spent the majority of conversation going to the Word, the source for the answers to his second question. Gramps, thanked me for the chat. He didn’t convert that day, but seeds were sown. Later, I found out that he had just been diagnosed with a malignant cancer that would soon take his life. Questions about his eternal destiny were his present reality.

A week later, I received another call from Gramps at the church. He started off by say, “Hey Pastor Hutts. I have two things I’d like to share with you. First, I have asked my girlfriend to marry me. Second, after talking to a pastor in town I have given my life to Jesus Christ.” Gramps went into hospice care a few months later. I leaned over the edge of his bed, he looked into my eyes—with tears in his—and said confidently, “I look forward to seeing my Savior.”

Gramps conversion was sudden and unexpected, as it might be with your neighbors, loved ones, or enemies. When you consider Saul’s sudden conversion how does it call you to persevere and be patience? How does it encourage you as you think about those who hard to love or hard to the gospel? As we will see (next week), Saul’s conversion is meant give you encouragement.

Coming Soon…

Part 1: God’s grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone (last week).

Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion (today).

Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments (next week).

Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood (in 2-weeks).

God’s grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone

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Have you ever known a heinous somebody, who miraculously turned their life around? Have you ever been threatened by someone and struggled with doubts about them ever changing? Have you been praying for a loved one or friend to believe the gospel for a long time without any difference?

Saul, also known as Paul, is one of the most beloved characters in the NT. He is known for his boldness and bravery for the sake of Jesus’ name. However, don’t forget Saul’s beginnings. I suppose that’s what makes his story so sweet. He the proud student of the Jewish scholar, Gamaliel. He slavishly devoted himself to obeying the Torah among other Pharisaical laws [Galatians 1:13-14]. He rose in rank, becoming a member of the elite group that wielded considerable religious and political power in his Israel. He was a Hebrew through and through and he devoted his entire life to promote Judaism, no matter the cost.

The one thing that Saul saw as the biggest menace to Judaism was the growing movement of people who called themselves followers of the Way (cf. John 14:6). Jews were converting by the hundreds and thousands, believing “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which men must be saved” (Acts 4:12), but the name of Jesus.

In zealous response, Saul wreaked havoc and terror on Jesus-followers seeking to be a one-man roadblock to the Way. In Acts 9:1–2, Saul was not just bullying Christians, he was “breathing threats.” Like a bull snorting and stomping his hooves he was ready to charge at the church. With permission from the theocratic ruler of the Jewish people, his next stop was Damascus.

Saul’s intentions, like a terrorist, was to inflict debilitating fear that would squelch the new movement of Jesus followers (cf. Acts 8). Unbeknown to Saul, God had different intentions for his journey to Damascus. God was leading him down redemption road.

Remember, Saul began as an enemy of Jesus. Like Saul, we all began our journeys as enemies too. But as we will see (next week), God’s grace will be on display (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9)! He is powerful enough to redeem any enemy into a friend. He is powerful enough to redeem the your friend or enemy or anyone. Don’t forget that!

How can the begins of Saul’s journey and the promise of God’s grace give you hope for those you know who are hard to love or hard to the gospel? How are you an example of God’s grace being powerful enough to redeem?

Coming Soon…

Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion.

Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments.

Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood.

from wonder to witness

I’ve had a few Turning Points in my life, as I’m sure you’ve had too. My first turning point came when I was 12. I grew up in a normal American dysfunctional home. My parents divorced before I could understand and we were nominal churchgoers. I was a troubled and angry kid. I rode the short bus and was labeled a special kid. I was so embarrassed. After my mom remarried, our family moved for work reasons to a small town in the middle of Wisconsin. We began attending a Bible Church. They used Bibles. So the next week mom went to Sam’s Club and bought Bibles. We grew like weeds. Within months, both my mom and I came to Christ. A few years later we got baptized together.

My second turning point came when I was 18. Since my salvation leaders in my church took me under their wing and helped me to grow in God’s Word and the gifts of the Spirit. I was encouraged to consider fulltime Christian service. That led me to Bible College, then a yearlong church planting apprenticeship in South Africa, then ministry for the past 8-years as an assistant pastor in Indiana, and then marriage to [Congolese] Sarah who I had met years before in Bible College.

My third turning point came on a vision trip Sarah, Justus, and I took to Chad last year this time. I clearly remember walking the dry dusty roads of northeast Chad, the hot sun beating on my face, and a sense of thirst on my tongue. While walking through the abstract streets I could hear the calls from the local mosque, donkeys laughing, and the Spirit of God convicting me. I though to myself, “You got Someone these people do not. 100% of the people in this town do not know your Jesus. Who will help bring the church to unreached Chad?”

The book of Acts is full of turning points.  Today I want to draw your attention to a turning point in Acts 1. Here the disciples are getting some last words from the resurrected Jesus. He had spent many hours, days, and years teaching these men who they were. He called them God’s servants, friends, beloved children, and brothers. Sometimes they seemed to understand who they were, but at other times they seemed clueless. And just before Jesus is about to leave them and ascend to heaven, He says, “You are my witnesses.” [Acts 1:8]

What is a witness? A good Christianese word. When the word witness appears in the book of Acts it most often refers to the role the 11-apostles had as legal eye-witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection.[1] At the end of the book, Paul uses the word of himself because he also had heard and seen the resurrected Jesus. But in Acts 1:8, when Jesus uses the word witness, He alludes to Isaiah 43. There the word witness applies broadly to all of God’s people:

Isaiah 43:10You are my witnesses,” says the LORD, “and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after Me. 11 I, I am the LORD, and besides Me there is no savior. 12 I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are My witnesses,” says the LORD.

How does Isaiah give meaning to witness in the book of Acts? First, being a witness is not something any of these people chose. It is something God chose for them. Israel was God’s chosen people; likewise, Jesus chose His disciples. We often talk about witnessing as if it is something you choose or don’t choose, but it is not. You are witnesses by God’s choice. And you cannot help but be witnesses when you are identified with Jesus. Either you’re a witness or you’re not. It’s like my wife saying she’s kind of pregnant. Either she is or she is not.

Second, what made them witnesses was not something they did, practiced or earned; it was something they were. It was a relationship with God that made the apostles witnesses. You are a mom/dad because you have children; you are a son/daughter because you have parents; you are a man/women because that’s how you were born; or you are a student because you are in school. You are a witness because you are a follower of Christ.

A witness is not a passive role you fulfill. Rather the biblical idea of witness is quite active. Jesus says you can bear witness or you can even bear false witness. There were specific things Israel did and did not do which affected their testimony as witnesses. So it is with a witness of Christ. What does your witness say about Jesus?

As a witness of Christ, I openly and publicly demonstrate what I have learned and seen while with Jesus. But my witness is much more than words; it is a whole way of life. The Greek word for witness is μαρτος, where you get the word martyr. As the early Christian gave up their lives for what they had seen, the word martyr began to mean “one who choose to suffer or die for his or her beliefs.” [i.e. Stephen, cf. Acts 7:58] To be a witness, means giving my whole life, even giving up my life for what I have seen and heard from Christ. To be a witness is not a fatalist. But as a witness I am unwilling to bow to the god of comfort and safety or muzzle my mouth because the gospel will offend someone. Jesus says the cross is foolishness to unbelievers. Recently, I’ve been challenged by the story of Mark, a brother serving in North Africa,

Mark was part of a team of two families serving Muslim. Late in August, the team received death threats. The families were evacuated, but Mark stayed for one last meeting with believers before joining them. The night after the meeting while at home preparing his dinner, Mark was shot. He was discovered the next morning in his home, but he had lost too much blood to survive. At his passing, Mark left a young wife and two infant twin daughters. Mark’s agency feared the possibility of legal action from Mark’s father, who was not a believer and who vocally opposed his son’s service among Muslims. But at Mark’s funeral, Mark’s father was among fifteen people who gave their lives to Christ. His wife plans to minister in the same region where her husband was killed.

Third, being a witness is first “so that” you may know God and then “so that” others may know your God. Being a witness is about knowing God, seeing His steadfast love, observing His work in creation, hearing His voice. Being a witness is not something directed only toward others—though it has implications for those around you. Being a witness begins by being grounded in your relationship with God.

“Witness-ship” is a mark borne by getting near God. There is something so powerful about God’s character that it is impossible to get near what He is doing without being marked. The closer you get the more profound the mark.

Not only can you see God at work in historic acts, but also if you keep your eyes open you keep seeing him at work today. You see God at work in your life, in your friend’s lives and in the world around you. You still see God doing things that you long for but can’t make happen on your own. You see God’s forgiveness and love. You see how God transforms messed up lives and redeems them through His Son.

You—His witnesses—play a huge role in God’s plan.[2] You are the evidence of God’s work. The Bible tells the story of ordinary people so you can learn about an extraordinary God. How do you know God’s love is steadfast? By looking at the story of God’s people. How do you know God keeps His promises? By looking at His people. How does the world hear about God’s salvation? By hearing and seeing the witness of God’s people, like you and me. God has made His people messengers of His love, ambassadors of His kingdom, lights on a hill, salt in society. God has called you to be His witnesses.

The disciples stood on the mount starring with wonder into the sky, like a crowd at Cape Canaveral watching the shuttle launch or Superman making his classic exit, only this was no space shuttle or superhero it was the coronation of Jesus Christ. And with the rest of our time today, I want to uncover what Jesus expects from you, His witnesses.

1. You are commanded to live in the power of the Holy Spirit [Acts 1:4–5, 8a]

The book of Acts is often referred to as the Gospel (or autobiography) of the Holy Spirit. If you want to learn about the person and work of the Holy Spirit read Acts. In Acts 1:2-8 Jesus gives a concise theology of the Holy Spirits work. And amazingly Jesus receives the instruction from the Holy Spirit on the Holy Spirit.

First, His followers are guaranteed baptism by the Holy Spirit, which fulfills the promise Christ gave of the Helper who would come after He ascended [vs.4-5, cf. Luke 24:44-49].[3] For the first time, God would not dwell in a temple, but His temple would now continually dwell in His people. Jesus cautioned the disciples not to leave Jerusalem without the Holy Spirit. Why? If they did not waited they would be powerless.

Second, His followers are guaranteed power from the Holy Spirit to do miraculous works among the people [v.8a].[4] Jesus has completed His earthly ministry and now inaugurates the apostle’s earthly ministry.[5] These men witnessed Jesus’ teachings and miracles, and now they would continue on His ministry after Him. Although you might not exercise signs and wonders quite like the apostles, His ministry through you is still powerful and miraculously changing lives.

In Martin Lloyd-Jones’ book Joy Unspeakable he uses an illustration to describe the difference between common Christian living and what happens when the Holy Spirit comes upon a person with this unusual and unmatched power.

It is like a child walking along holding his father’s hand. All is well. The child is happy. He feels secure. His father loves him. He believes that his father loves him but there is no unusual urge to talk about this or sing about it. It is true and it is pleasant.

Then suddenly the father startles the child by reaching down and sweeping him up into his arms and hugging him tightly and kissing him on the neck and whispering, “I love you so much!” And then holding the stunned child back so that he can look into his face and saying with all his heart, “I am so glad you are mine.” Then hugging him once more with unspeakable warmth and affection. Then he puts the child down and they continue their walk.

This is what happens when a person is baptized with the Holy Spirit. A pleasant and happy walk with God is swept up into an unspeakable new level of joy and love and assurance and reality that leaves the Christian so utterly certain of the immediate reality of Jesus that he is overflowing in praise and more free and bold in witness than he ever imagined he could be.

The child is simply stunned. He doesn’t know whether to cry or shout or fall down or run, he is so happy. The fuses of love are so overloaded they almost blow out. The subconscious doubts—that he wasn’t thinking about at the time, but that pop up every now and then—are gone! And in their place is utter and indestructible assurance, so that you know that you know that you know that God is real and that Jesus lives and that you are loved, and that to be saved is the greatest thing in the world. And as you walk on down the street you can scarcely contain yourself, and you want to cry out, “My father loves me! My father loves me! O, what a great father I have! What a father! What a father!” [cf. Acts 2:11]”

The Holy Spirit’s all-consuming passion is to exalt Christ to the end of the earth. And the reason He has a white-hot passion is to empower you to witness to the ends of the earth:

  • “All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” [Numbers 14:21; Habakkuk 2:14]
  • God brought His people into Canaan “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty” [Joshua 4:24, cf. 1 Samuel 17:46].
  • David commands, “Sing to the Lord all the earth…Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples!” [Psalm 96:1–3]
  • “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” [Isaiah 49:6]
  • Jesus himself said, “Go make disciples of all nations” [Matthew 28:19].
  • “This gospel must be proclaimed to all the nations” [Mark 13:10].
  • “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain and by Your blood did ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” [Revelation 5:9–10]

The Holy Spirit wants the world for Christ. So He equips you as His witness with power to do it. He gives you absolute confidence that as you go out making disciples in His authority  nothing will thwart His name from reaching the nations.

2. You are called to share the gospel with people near and far, and similar or different than you [Acts 1:6–8]

Imagine you had the opportunity to ask Jesus any question. What would you ask? The disciples have an honest question for Jesus. Since Jesus and the OT prophecies talked a lot about this coming kingdom, and many anticipated a Messiah who would reign and release His people from the oppressive Roman Empire they ask, “Will you now restore your kingdom?” Jesus does not belittle their question, but reminds them that the timing is not for them to know. Instead, He refocuses them on being ready for the great task of sharing the good news with the known world.

The geography boundaries mentioned becomes an outline for the remainder of Acts as the apostles take the gospel from Jerusalem [1-7], to Judea and Samaria [8-12], and to the edges of the globe [13-28]. Jesus calls them to share the gospel with people like them in Jerusalem, the hub of the Jews. But He also calls them to share the gospel with people on the other side of the tracks in Judea and Samaria. These were people the Jews did not like. But God loved. For centuries the Jews had a sour spot for the “half-breed” Samaritans. But God intended Israel to be a light to the Gentiles. Since, Israel failed in this mission, Jesus is calling the apostles to carry His torch to their lost neighbors and be a bright light to the world. This is also the reason for your church and you: be a light locally and globally.

As witness we are team players. We are no longer just bystanders on the bleachers. We’ve been trained by the Master to carry the ball (gospel) up and down the field. I think of the five men who lost their lives in Ecuador to reach the Auca Indians. One wife and sister returned to the village and the wife raised their daughter among the tribe that killed their husband. Many in the tribe converted. Months ago, I met a man from North Africa whose church had been bombed a dozen times by Muslims. These are people on the front lines of Jesus’ mission shining the light in darkness. Near, far, similar, or different there are not boundaries to the gospel.

Who are your Samaritans? Is it your annoying co-worker or boss? Is it a relative? Is it a sassy celebrity like Lady GaGa or Katy Perry? Is it the Hispanic or black down the street? Is it the poor person you see on the corner always seeking a hand out? Is it your fellow Democrat? If you’re from Ohio, could it be people from Michigan? You know your Samaritan. It’s the one who makes your skin crawl and you avoid them like the plague. Jesus died for them too and He is calling you to be a witness to them.

3. You are urged to be diligent, even as you long for Christ’s return [Acts 1:9–11]

The purpose of God and the passion of the Spirit are not yet completed. We might question why, but Jesus’ answer will always be, “It is not for you to know the times and seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” The great danger we face in the American church is the illusion that the purpose of God is complete, that the world has been evangelized. But there are over 2.7 billion (that’s billion!) people in the world who have not heard the gospel; they have no missionary, no church, and not enough Christians in their own people group to reach themselves.

That boggles me, as I am sure the apostles were boggled that day they starred into the sky wondering when Jesus would return. I love what happens next. Two messengers dressed in white came to the apostles. What message did say to the apostles? Why do you wonder? Witness! Jesus will come back. Not yet. So get to it”

Proof of the disciples diligence is in the remaining 28 chapters of Acts. They confidently expected Jesus’ return, but didn’t twiddle their thumbs in the meantime. With their own ears they heard their calling from the lips of Jesus: you are witnesses not stargazers. Owning the Spirits passion they spread the name of Jesus to the ends of the known world.

Turn to Acts chapter 29. Ah, this chapter does not exist! This is your chapter or appendix. The apostles are gone, but the work is unfinished. There are still billions of lost people lined up to hell all around you. 99% of Yemen, Libya, and Pakistan are unbelieving, unchurched, and lining up to the gates of hell. The picture of the young boy looking to the sky is a reminder of a need for a Savior. Who will tell him? As you wait in line for Heaven or Jesus’ return, people next to you need a turning point. Be a witness. Speak up for Jesus. Remember how He was the greatest turning point in your life?

Jesus died on the cross for the people of your church. He is returning for you soon. Jesus is worthy of your absolute surrender. God opened your eyes so you could believe in Him. When God saved you He gave you His Spirit. He has clothed each of your with His power. You live among a world of sin, darkness, and great need. God has charged you to take the gospel to these people and ends of the earth. The stakes are high. But Jesus says, “You are my witnesses.” To whom will you share?


[1] Cf. 1:21-22; 2:21-33; 3:14-16; 5:31-32; 6:13-14; 7:58; 10:37-41; 13:30; 22:13-15, 20-21; 26:15-16

[2] You and I are an indispensable link in the chain of redemption. See how the Spirit deploys people in Acts 8:29, 39; 9:17, 31; 10:19–20; 11:12; 13:4; 16:6–9; 19:21.

[3] Cf. Luke 3:16; cf. Mark 1:8; Matt 3:11; John 1:33; Acts 2:3

[4] Power, δυναμις, is used almost exclusively in Acts to describe the supernatural, miraculous power of God through them to confirm they are from God, representing Christ, and their work is from the Holy Spirit. Note: Acts 2:22; 3:12; 4:7-9, 33; 6:8; 8:10, 13; 10:38; 19:11; cf. Hebrew 2:4.

[5] During Jesus’ ministry, there is no reference to the Holy Spirit being upon anyone except Jesus. The Spirit descended upon him at his baptism (Luke 3:22), filled him as he returned from the Jordan (Luke 4:1), led him both in and out of the wilderness (Luke 4:1, 14), and rested upon him in his sermon at Nazareth (Luke 4:18).

Is the book of Acts descriptive or prescriptive?

Acts tells the story of how His church began and how the message Christ spread. Christians who read the book of Acts are inspired by the explosive expansion of the early church. Thousands of people were coming to Christ, people were being miraculously healed, supernatural gifts like speaking in tongues were heard, and believers preached the gospel with boldness. Honestly, many desire this kind of outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the church today.

It is certain that Luke, a disciple of Christ, wrote the book of Acts. He writes the book as history in action,[1] particularly related to redemptive history and the spread of the message of salvation to the world.[2] Luke adds further details and personality sketches that help us understand what happened in the first century church.[3] He tells us the outcome of the story of Jesus contained in the Gospels and introduces the apostolic writings and their historical context, especially those of Paul.[4] He tells us what is happening during the early church days, but he rarely indicates what should happen today.

A Descriptive and Prescriptive View of Acts

Is the Books of Acts descriptive or prescriptive? In other words, are the facts in Acts for the church today? In Acts 6:1-6, Luke describes seven men who were chosen to wait on tables these men became the leaders of their churches. Then there are some amazing events like the extraordinary miracles God did through Paul (19:11-12), striking claims that caused people to perish (5:9-10), speaking in tongues after the filling of the Spirit (2:2-3), and so much more. Are we supposed to follow these orders within the church today? How are suppose to know if we are to follow them or not?

Much of the material in the New Testament falls into two categories: descriptive or prescriptive. Descriptive is a narration of what took place (i.e. Acts 10:45,46). Prescriptive are commands about how to live the Christian life through direct teaching on spiritual truths (i.e. 2 Timothy. 4:2; Colossians 2:9). Readers must be cautious to identify the type of passage they are reading, especially in the book of Acts. John Stott gives some great wisdom on how to deal with such texts:

What is described in Scripture as having happened to others is not necessarily intended for us, whereas what is promised to us we should appropriate, and what is commanded us we are to obey . . . What is descriptive is valuable (in determining what God intends for all Christians) only in so far as it is interpreted by what is didactic . . . We must derive our standards of belief and behavior from the teaching of the New Testament . . . rather than from the practices and experiences which it portrays.”[5]

A good principle is to interpret the descriptive in light of the prescriptive. We are not commanded to copycat what the Bible describes unless it is prescribed in direct teaching of timeless spiritual truth. In other words, we must interpret descriptions in the book of Acts in light of what the Gospels and Epistles prescribe and teach as timeless truths.[6] For example, Christians today cannot be witnesses in the same foundational sense that the apostles were (8:4; 11:19-21), but we can share in the task of testifying and witnessing Jesus’ redemptive message (1 Corinthians 15:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:10; 1 Peter 5:1; 1 John 1:2; 4:14).

The books of the Bible were written occasionally, which means they were written to particular people in particular places at particular times. Acts must be read as a history of God’s redemptive work in the early church, and only follow theological and doctrinal “patterns” that are clearly repeated and/or commanded within the text also appearing in the Gospels and Epistles. There is no one sentence of the Bible addressed to me today telling me what to do. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t apply to me today. This means that we must do theology with every book of the Bible, regardless of its descriptive or prescriptive character.

Since Acts is a narrative it is primarily descriptive telling us what the apostles did, and not necessarily prescriptive telling us what we should do.[7] There are numerous sermons in Acts, many of which record the basic message of the early church. Many of these sermons teach spiritual truth that transcends time. Just as Acts 1:8 gives a rough geographical preview of the book of Acts, so Luke gives us a preview of the theological message (Luke 24:46-49). Several sermons in Acts contain a portrayal of the gospel. These particular sermons argue that Jesus is the Messiah, that He fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, that God raised Him from the dead, and that He is the answer to Jewish and Gentile hope. These sermons are timeless truths placed within history.

Read the book of Acts Purposely

The purpose of Acts is not to serve as a model in every area of practice or experience for what individual believers or the church should do now. Acts is descriptive, not prescriptive—it is history, not law. However, there is much to learn from the experience and history of the early church. As Gordon Fee sates,

“We must not lose sight of the fact that Acts purports to narrate historical events such as: the founding and growth of the church, the career of Paul, and without Acts we would knowing nothing of the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, Stephens martyrdom, the early Jerusalem church and how the gospel first came to the Gentiles.”[8]

What we read in Acts does serve as a model for us in areas that are mandated in the rest of the New Testament when it comes to such dogma as evangelism, missions, prayer, sacrificial giving, church leadership, ministry and more. Acts overarching purpose that the church today can take home is that we must be risk takers for the sake of Christ redemptive message.


[1] Graeme Goldworthy shares that “Acts is a highly selective history and the presentation is carefully controlled by the author’s summary statements and transitional notes. The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL. 2000. 286.

[2] Frank Theilman. Theology of the New Testament. Zondervan Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI.  2005. 114.

[3] “Luke is probably writing in the manner of the Greek historians Xenophon and Plutarch. What this means is that a selection of the hero’s acts…, historical vignettes which set forth the hero’s character, are his major concern. The Book of Acts, then, is not a mere chronicle of events, but a portrayal of the kinds of people and kinds of things that were taking place in the early church” William H. Baker, Acts: Evangelical Commentary of the Bible, edited by Walter Elwell, page 884).

[4] Goldworthy, 290.

[5] John R. W. Stott, Baptism and Fullness. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1975, pp. 15-17.

[6] Examples of interpreting the descriptive in light of the prescriptive:

Narrative: Acts 2:42 // Prescriptive:

Apostles’ teaching // Col. 3:16; 1 Pet. 2:2

Fellowship // Heb. 10:24,25

Breaking of bread // 1 Cor. 11:23-34

Prayer // Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17

Narrative: Acts 2:43 Wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles (2 Cor. 12:12).

Prescriptive Scripture: The phrase “signs and wonders” is used in connection with the apostles and their close associates to validate the truth of their message.

Narrative: Acts 2:44,45 Those who believed were together and had all things in common. They began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.

Prescriptive Scripture: The New Testament never prescribes communal living. Rather it affirms the legitimacy of private property (1 Thess. 4:11,12; 2 Thess. 3:11,12) and teaches us to be generous (1 John 3:16,17).

[7] Gordon Fee. How to Interpret the Bible for All It’s Worth.

[8] D.A Carson. An Introduction to the New Testament. Zondervan Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI.  2005. 316-317.

from beggar to worshiper

While visiting the market in North Africa, especially in bigger towns, it does not take long before children come to you begging for money. It is hard to withhold helping them when they are so dirty, skinny and needy. However, to give them money is to give the mosque money. These boy and girl beggars are employees of the Imam. Therefore, we give them bananas or a drink of clean water. And what they really need money cannot buy; they need the riches of Jesus Christ.

As we arrive in Acts 3, we arrive to a church that is newborn. Peter has just preached his heart out, the Holy Spirit is at work, and thousands were added to the church. The infant church was booming with excitement. The day after Pentecost, Peter and John head to the temple for mid-afternoon prayer. On their way they pass by the local beggar. He’s in need of a turning point.

1. Everyday expect there to be unexpected opportunities to freely give out the gospel by introducing beggars to Jesus [Acts 3:1-10]

Doctor Luke gives careful details that this beggars been crippled since birth. He’s never walked. He probably slept near the gate and carried him up lots of stairs to his post at the gate each day where he hoped for a handout. He’s been doing this for 40 years. Isn’t it ironic that the beggar is by the beautiful gate? Can you see the contrast? The gate was a modern marvel and a symbol of wealth. It was an ordinary dirty bronze gate, but it was overlaid with silver and gold. In the light it glistened. And beggar sitting next to it as a stinky, dirty, and pitiful eyesore.

The two apostles make eye contact with the beggar. Have you ever made eye contact with a beggar? There is an unspoken vagabond code that says: ignore the beggar and he won’t bother you, but if you make eye contact expect to dish out. I have been around beggars. I am guilty of taking the long way around or looking the other way pretending to be fixed on something important. It is like being in class and your teacher asks a question that you do not know the answer therefore you dare not make eye contact lest you be chosen. Strangely Peter and John call the beggar to look at them.

Peter and John have literally sold everything they owned to serve Christ [2:44-47]. They do not have what the beggar wants, but they do have what he needs, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” [3:6] I am sure the man was disappointed or felt shortchanged at first, but Peter took his hand and helped him to his feet. The man not only began walking but also began jumping [Isaiah 35:6]. It’s something he’s never done before, even as a child. And like a child he’s not shy to show his joy in what God has done. He has just become a living, breathing, walking, and talking commercial of Jesus’ power and provision. I am sure he was an undignified spectacle within the temple.

I love the excitement of the beggar. He worships God and cares less what the crowd thinks. All the while the religious around him are thinking, “Settle down rookie. Your zeal will fade in time.” The religious are usually the most cantankerous. God detests the religious and their man-made rules and regulations. Long gone are the days their passion for God and joy in the transforming power of the gospel.

A similar event occurs in Luke 5:17-26. A crowd had gathered to see Jesus. A paralyzed man was lower through the roof of the packed house. Jesus healed the man. He got up from his mat, and walked home glorifying God. Imagine the reaction from his mother when he walked through the door that day! Not only was he healed, but also he forgiven by the Son of Man. The religious grumbled, but the crowd was amazed at what they saw and said; “We have seen extraordinary things today.”[1]

This story gives illustration to some biblical truths common to all. First, we are all beggars before we become Jesus worshipers. We are born beggars. We beg God to accept our good, which really is dirt and dung. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” [Isaiah 64:6] There is no good bone or blood in us. But those who humble themselves to Christ whose bones were crushed and blood was spilt for their sin will be healed. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:3]

Second, the way to Jesus is through a narrow gate, but the most beautiful gate. I used to have a poster that depicted this scene. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” [Matthew 7:13-14; cf. Luke 13:24; John 14:6]

Third, the riches of Christ are infinitely greater than the wealth of this world.[2] Salvation in Christ is the greatest rags to riches story of the universe. How amazing it is that God can rescue a soul signed to an unending lease within hell and pay his sin debt and freely offer him an opulent room and inheritance within His kingdom.[3]

When theologian Thomas Aquinas visited Rome he met with Pope Innocent II. Aquinas was amazed by the opulence of the Vatican in that day. And this was prior to the building of St. Peter’s, but even then it was a glorious headquarters for the Catholic church, filled with riches, and the pope was somewhat proud of the riches, and he said to Aquinas, “No longer do we say, ‘Silver and gold have we none.’” Thomas looked at the pope and said, “Maybe that is why we can no longer say, ‘Rise up and walk.’” Now the church’s riches were not why the church lost its power to heal people. The reason is that the power evidenced in the early days of the church was given by Christ to His Apostles to establish the church. Aquinas knew that, but I guess he did not want to miss the opportunity to jab the pope.[4]

Today the church has great wealth. Little of that wealth goes to global gospel ministry. In fact, 95% of the churches money, people, and resources go to Christians. All the while unreached worldwide remain heavily unreached.

Fourth, everyday you are surrounded by beggars who are unaware of their real need of Christ. As a Christ follower you have all they really need. Stop taking the long way around and quit looking the other way pretending to do something more important. Invite them to look into your eyes and say, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” [3:6]

I was confronted by this truth just this week. I attended a pastor’s conference with nearly 2000 pastors and missionaries. At the conference I met, Tyrone, an employee at the conference center. I watched as he opened doors for servants of God, but not one person acknowledged he existed. He was a beggar in our midst. You have beggars in your midst too.

2. Don’t neglect to share the transforming power of the gospel is faith in the name of Jesus and no other [Acts 3:11-16; 4:1-12]

Miracles make news travel fast. Soon a crowd gathers to see the healed man. He’s clinging to the apostles like a shadow. And the people are staring at Peter and John awaiting their next trick as if they were Penn and Teller. Since Peter’s got a crowd, why not preach? Peter is quick to deflect the attention, “Don’t look at me, look at Jesus!”

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, The God of our Fathers who has glorified His servant Jesus” [3:13]. Just in case there was any doubt that Jesus is the focus of Peter’s message, the name of Jesus is named 9 times in chapters 3-4.[5] Peter lists five absolute exaltations of Jesus—that’s the essence of this sermon—to magnify Jesus. He is:

  1. the long-awaited servant of the Lord; [cf. Isaiah 52:13, suffering servant]
  2. glorified by God; [as He sits at the right hand of His Father]
  3. the Holy and Righteous One; [He’s not a criminal or blasphemer]
  4. the Author of Life; and [co-creator and Savior]
  5. raised by God from the dead. [the apostles saw Him with their own eyes]

The sermon was also a scorching indictment of all who gathered. It’s as if Peter points a finger in their faces saying (with three pointed back at him), “You are the very people who betrayed Christ, who delivered Him, screamed for His blood, and are guilty of His murder. By the power of that same Jesus, this man was made whole. It wasn’t me, but Jesus.”  Peter also a former denier acknowledges their ignorance [3:17], but they are no longer, so the only solution is to repent and turn to Jesus. Jesus on the cross, cried out, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do” [Luke 23:34].

Doing ministry in name of Jesus is what got the apostles into trouble. Jesus and His growing group of followers were a sore subject for the Jews [4:2, 17; cf. Luke 20:27-40]. They thought Jesus was a joke, a fake, a blasphemer, and the same went for His followers. Earlier crowds convicted Jesus of a crime, which led to His death. Now the religious leaders threw the apostles in jail hoping they might think a bit. But the next day, they were brought out before the religious big wigs they did not back down from making Jesus known.

Jesus is the focus of the apostle’s ministry. So should yours. It’s not about the numbers in the crowd [cf. 4:4], coolness of the program, effectiveness of the event, or pat on the back for your faithful years of service. It’s about lifting high the majestic name of Jesus. This might not make you the most popular person, but it gives credit where credit is due. Peters words cut to the core of the issue: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” [4:12] These are not politically correct, tolerant, or sensitive words, but true words nonetheless. Christianity is exclusive: Jesus is the only way to God. But it is also inclusive: for all who would believe on Him.

There is even more here that you need to see. Sometimes people will say, “Yes, Jesus is the only source of salvation, but you don’t have to know Him in order to benefit from the salvation He offers.” In other words, “If you are a faithful Muslim or Hindu or Jew or animist, Jesus will save you. There is salvation in no one else, but you don’t have to believe on Him in order to be saved by Him.” That is modern day universalism. It’s heresy!

Is that what Peter said or meant? Peter focused on the name of Jesus, “There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” He did not say there are some other names by which you can be saved and Jesus is one of them. “There is no other name,” and Jesus’ name is your only entrance into fellowship with God. Peter says in Acts 10:43, “Every one who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” The name of Jesus is the focus of faith and repentance. In order to believe on Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, you must believe on His name. That is, you must have heard of Him, know of His saving work on the cross, and understand He rose from the dead.

Paul echoes in Romans 10:13–15: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed and how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” There is salvation in no one else—and that means there must be missionaries, who make Him known by name so that people can believe and call on His name for salvation. “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, apart from Him no one comes to the Father” [John 14:6].

Jesus is absolutely unique. He is absolutely supreme among all the gods and lords of the world religions. Knowing Him and believing on His name is absolutely necessary for salvation. Peter’s sermon is calling us to Christ.

It calls you to clarity.  It calls you to understand your faith. If all sincere roads lead to an afterlife, then understanding the road you are on to make sure it is the right one is not very important. If there are not many ways to God, but only one way, then the highest priority in life is to understand Jesus and follow Him. The supremacy of Christ as the only way to God calls for clarity. This is important in a world of universalism. Make the message of Jesus clear!

It calls for courage. There is no point in dying for your faith if another way will lead you to God. What gets you killed is to believe Jesus is the only way. Around the world Christians are being martyred, I met some former Muslims who became Christian in North Africa. In the early days they were beaten, threatened, kick out of their families, fired from their jobs, and ostracized from their communities. Living for the name of Christ is difficult. It takes courage. It takes courage to speak to the beggars. Are you courageous?

It calls for humility. Humble yourself to the name of Christ. What is the use of making your name great when in a few generations it will be forgotten? The name that will last forever is the name of Jesus. Fan the flame of His fame. Humble yourself and give the credit for the good in your ministry to Jesus. You cannot pack your credentials in your coffin when you die. Work hard to deflect attention off you onto Christ.

It calls for joy. Let us stand to our feet and leap for joy at the transforming work of Jesus Christ. Peter could have said to the people, “Why aren’t you in the temple jumping, leaping, and praising God like the healed beggar? It is your God, the God of your fathers, the God of your heritage, who is glorifying His Son.”

This is the response of a beggar turned worshiper. Today can be your turning point!


[1] Cf. Luke 4:36; 5:9, 26; 7:16

[2] 2 Corinthians 8:9; Ephesians 2:7; 3:8; Philippians 4:19; Colossians 1:27; Titus 3:6;  2 Peter 1:11

[3] Romans 8:17; Galatians 4:7; Ephesians 1:18; 3:6; Titus 3:7; James 2:5; 1 Peter 1:4;

[4] Sproul, R. C. (2010-11-03). Acts: St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (pp. 76-78). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

[5] Cf. 3:6, 16, 4:7, 8, 12, 17, 18, 30

from unknown to renown

Today 2.6 billion people are completely unreached with the gospel. They do not have a church or gospel message in their midst. Nearly 4 billion people are unengaged by the gospel. Meanwhile the world’s major religions—Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam—are making inroads along with a variety of cults and New Age philosophies. People are not shy to hide their beliefs like this bumper sticker I saw Friday, “Born-again pagan.”

The religious culture and climate of North Africa has been unreached for nearly 1200 years. Islam has long taken root and is blossoming even to this day, which can be heard from the daily prayers echoing from the tall spires of the local mosque. Islam mixed African animism is woven into almost every fabric of their lives from mealtime, to family makeup, to laws, and to greetings. To call them to Christ is to call them to live counter-culture.

I am sure you are around people every day that are unengaged with the gospel. You could say these people are ignorantly worshiping an unknown god. If you are like me you might wonder, how am I going to reach all these different kinds of people? How do I reach out to hardnosed sibling or parent, question asking co-worker, or philosophically intelligent neighbor? There is no cookie-cutter method. However, observing the apostles in Acts 17 you can learn some valuable principles for making known the gospel of Jesus Christ Here are three truths to keep in mind:

1. GO WHERE THE GOOD NEWS IS NOT [Acts 17:16-23]

It might seem obvious, but in order to reach the unreached or unengaged, you got to go where they are. In Acts 17, God directs Paul and Silas to crowds of unreached in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. Wherever they went they met a mixed bag of people. Some were unruly and hostile, some studious and skeptics, and some eager to examine the Scripture. Where do you begin with the wide variety of crowds God has placed around you?

First, ask God for a burden for the unreached [16]. Evangelism is something that doesn’t come natural to many Christ followers. In fact some dread it. Ask God for Christlike compassion for those you would normally ignore. I have been able to remedy this by paying closer attention to the forgotten people around me [waitress, postman, store clerk, etc.]. I will pray for a desire to reach them. Then ask them how they are doing or how I can pray for them. It is amazing to see the opportunities God opens up along the way.

Second, learn about the unreached around you [17-18a]. Paul was in Athens, a pagan and philosophical capital. Athens is city similar to university towns like Madison or West Lafayette. It’s a town where the average person has plethora of PhD’s. Home to philosophical legends like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno. As a secular city center, Athens was a melting pot of culture, philosophy, the arts, and a smorgasbord of gods. Towering above the city on Mars Mill sat the Areopagus. It was sort of a temple to the human brain that served as the chief courtroom and a place to hold philosophical discussions.

Two schools of thought dominated Athens. First, Epicureanism emphasized a world governed by blind chance, with the absence of an afterlife, gods were distant and uncaring, and the pursuit of pleasure was the only thing worth seeking. Second, Stoicism emphasized a world determined by fate, where human beings must pursue their duty. As John Stott said, Athens “resigned themselves to live in harmony with nature and reason, however painful this might be, and develop their own self-sufficiency.” It was a culture with a lot of similarities to ours today that challenged truth.

Third, expect opposition to absolute truth [18b-21]. The thinkers of Athens call Paul a “seed-picker,” which is a slang term [i.e. bird eating mixed grain] for a peddler of second-hand philosophy—an intellectual scavenger that picks and chooses what he wants to believe. However, Paul was no intellectual slouch. He was a straight-A student under Gamaliel in Jerusalem. He was an expert in the law. And when he came to Christ, Christ, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit shaped his worldview. Viewing life through a biblically based, Christ-centered worldview is foolish to those who do not know God [1 Corinthians 1:17-21].

Proverbs says, a fool is one who does not consider all sides of a situation. Paul teaches that Gentiles “walk in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding” because of their “ignorance and hardened hearts,” [Ephesians 4:17–24] and their thought are “vain babblings” [1 Timothy 6:20]. In fact, all around you is undeniable and inescapable proof of God—for He has made Himself known through Creation and Christ—and all men are “without excuse” [Romans 1:19–20]. The knowledge of God is “suppressed in unrighteousness”, which places men under His wrath because they “know God, yet they glorify Him not as God.” Expect opposition when speaking up for Christ.

Fourth, uncover common ground [22-23]. Paul did not have much in common with the people of Athens. Certainly he had no common ground of agreement with their erroneous philosophies. He did not try to make the gospel more palatable or tolerable. But he did see one thing they had in common—worship. Everyone worships. They worshiped their knowledge and an unknown God, while Paul worshiped a knowable God.

I find it interesting that the Omega people we are reaching out to claim their roots to be with Solomon and the Ethiopians eunuch, but for centuries they have followed Muhammad the Prophet. Most Muslims have a fascination with the Bible and Jesus Christ. Pray for hearts open to hear the gospel. The Quran commands to read the Christian Scriptures including the gospel [Injil], which will introduce them to the Prophet, Priest and King.

2. QUICKLY POINT PEOPLE TO CHRIST & THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL [Acts 17:24-31]

I am sure Paul had a certain level of frustration with his audience. He probably wondered, “How am I going to reach this puffed up knuckleheaded people?” Notice he doesn’t scream at the audience, he does sweep them off their feet with irresistible oratory or amazing argumentation, he doesn’t sell himself to the audience, he simply shows them a soul surrendered to Christ. He deflects the attention off himself onto his Savior. This is key to any apologetics or heated spiritual discussions: point people to Jesus.

First, the power of persuasion is always in the Spirit of God [24-29]. Paul points to the character of Christ. And this is how Paul preaches Christ: He gives them a brief history lesson on God 101.

  • Christ is the omnipotent Creator [24a]. He owns the deed to His creation, since He has created all things.[1]
  • Christ is omnipresent in His children [24b]. He does not dwell in temples made with hands,[2] but hearts.
  • Christ is completely self-sufficient [25]. He needs nothing from man; man depends on God for everything.[3]
  • Christ is sovereign sustainer [26]. He’s not distant or indifferent, but as ruler of all He’s intimately involved.[4]
  • Christ is a gracious pursuer [27; Romans 1:19-20]. He creates man and pursues their affection. He has placed within each man a GPS [Godward Pursuing System]. Your homing beacon searches and finds rest in Christ.
  • Christ is the center of Worship [28]. Even Greek poets acknowledge we are from God.
  • Christ is eternally priceless [29; Romans 1:22-23]. People make idols of God from precious things because they have a high view of God, but He is incomparable to any object or form.

Paul’s theology revolves around his Christology. Jesus is the blazing center of his universe. Athens could no longer claim ignorance, but were now cognizant of Christ and His character. The Son of God goes from unknown to renown. They could ignore the facts [as many do], but the unknown God is made known. Like a set of keys you’ve been looking for, but all the while they are in your pocket. He has not only made Him known; he’s revealed His renown!

Second, the character of Christ calls people to repent [30-31]. Paul challenges the foundations of pagan philosophy and calls the philosophers to full repentance. Paul is like Jeremiah walking into idolatrous hot bed preaching one message, “repent!” with little response. They are a people who have long thought they were god. They equated themselves with god. But God is not your co-pilot; He doesn’t even want you in the cockpit. Paul describes an incomparable Christ. He is like no one and no one is like Him.

However, God is knowable through His Son Jesus Christ. And the mystery of all ages has been revealed in Christ. The age of ignorance is over. Gentiles can know Christ too [cf. Ephesians 3:4–6]![5] In Romans 10:13–15 Paul says,  “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” And “For there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12]

Paul is not arrogant or a pompous jerk, but is gentle and humble in his approach. He is bold when confronting them with Christ for He knows Jesus is judge.[6] After His resurrection Jesus charged the apostles “to preach unto the people and to testify that this is He who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead” [Acts 10:42]. This truth Paul shared in the Areopagus. The power in Paul’s preaching was provided by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.[7] The same power is available to you [Matthew 28:19-20]. The power is in the gospel—God is holy, man has fallen short of God’s glory, but Jesus pays man sins debt, and man’s hope is to respond with faith and repentance. That is the gospel.

3. PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL BOLDLY, BUT LEAVE THE RESULTS TO GOD [Acts 17:32-34]

Paul was simply a vehicle—a voice box of the truth. It takes the Holy Spirit to convince people of that truth. He does God’s work in God’s way with God’s power. Not everybody responds with immediate repentance. Some doubt, some wait to hear more [sometimes the hardest to reach because they are no longer ignorant yet choose to reject the truth], but some are ready to commit to Christ. The mission to Athens was no failure. The gospel was preached and at least two people got saved that day, including one member of the Areopagus council. Two people had a radical turning point.

What are the implications today for you and me? First, today is the day of salvation. Preach the gospel boldly to all men, not hold back, but bringing them face-to-face with Jesus Christ. Second, today is the time to mobilize the church to send out locally and globally. If your church is completely inward focused you are missing your mission. Third, today is the day to live out the gospel with your life. The gospel is not just the ABC’s of your salvation; it is the A-Z’s of working out your salvation with fear and trembling. This is the desire of our family’s heart—we long to live out the gospel as parents, as husband and wife, as people living in North Africa spreading the fame of Christ name among the unreached.

Are you ignorantly worshiping an unknown god? If your faith is not rooted in a gospel-centered relationship with Jesus Christ, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. If your daily life would go on as normal if God were no part of it, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. When your devotion lies in the practices of your church rather than the person of Jesus Christ, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. If your knowledge of how to worship exceeds your knowledge of who you are worshipping, you are ignorantly worshipping an unknown God. If the gospel ceases to be your sufficiency, dependency and satisfaction the day after you trusted Christ as Savior, you are ignorantly worshipping and unknown God.

Jesus has made Himself known. His renown will last the test of time. Only His name prevails beyond the grave. Do you know Him? Make Him known! “Your name, O LORD, endures forever, your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages.For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.” [Psalm 135:13-18]


[1]  cf. 14:15; Exodus 20:11; Psalm 24:1, 146:6; Isaiah 37:16; 42:5

[2] cf. 7:48-50; 1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 66:1–2

[3] cf. 14:17; Psalm 50:9–12; Isaiah 42:5

[4] cf. Genesis 1:28; Deuteronomy 32:8; Daniel 2:21

[5] There are two parts to the mystery of Christ: 1) Gentiles are not second-class citizens in the body of Christ: “there is neither Jew nor Gentile” (Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 2:14). Both are fellow heirs of the same inheritance. 2) This Gentile privilege comes only through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Where Christ is preached and believed, Gentiles are grafted into the tree of God’s people. In Colossians 1:26 Paul says that this mystery was “hidden for ages and generations but now is made manifest to his saints.” And in Romans 16:25 he says that the mystery “was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed.”

[6] cf. Psalm 9:8; 96:13; 98:9; Daniel 7:13; John 5:27; Romans 2:16

[7] cf. Acts 17:18; 4:2; Romans 4:25; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

from sofa to service

I love being a spectator. Some might consider me a professional spectator. In the fall there is nothing better than being a spectator in a football stadium cheering on your favorite team. Do you spectate? Maybe you’re a spectator of a good movie or concert, playing video games or surfing the Internet. Whether it is a bleacher or sofa, spectators are good sitters. Spectators feed off others doing the work and paying good money to have a seat with the best view.

Sad, but true, the Christian life can be a spectator sport. Instead of sofas or stadiums, the church pew can be your seat of choice. It is far too easy to sit comfortably cheering or booing on the 11-people serving on Sunday. All the while never engaging yourselves in the ministry or doing your part to serve the church. Where are you at today? Are you sitting in the grandstands cheering from a distance? Are you standing on the sideline benched and bored? Are you retired from the game because you are no longer motivated to workout your salvation with fear and trembling? Or are you on the field running the race, fighting the good fight, eager for encouragement to keep pressing on?

In Acts 9, Paul miraculous comes to Christ on the road to Damascus. After he gets his sight back he immediately enrolls to serve for the sake of Christ [cf. Acts 9:18-20]. According to Paul, serving Christ was the greatest thing since sliced kosher beef. He worked his entire life to gain merit badges from God, but Christ gave him an entirely different motivation to work. As a recipient of God’s grace, he made it his mission to be a conduit of God’s grace. You might call him a missionary—a man on a mission. I think Paul always kept his car packed ready to go to the next place eager to share the good news that radically broke into his life.  In fact, if you are believer you are an immediate missionary for Jesus Christ. Here are 3 truths that will move you from the sofa into His service or from the mundane to your mission:

1. NEVER DO MINISTRY ALONE [Acts 15:36-16:5]

On Paul’s first journey, he and Barnabus were sent out from Antioch [Acts 13]. Many Gentiles bowed their knee to Christ through their ministry. On the brink of the second missionary journey, Paul had a good plan, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” [Acts 15:36ff] Barnabus was cool with the plan, but he wanted to bring along John Mark too. Paul did not like the idea, since Mark bailed on them midway through their first journey [13:13]. Barnabus—the encourager—wanted to give his friend a second shot. It started a conflict so sharp the friends to parted ways.

So who was right? Most side with Paul since he’s the apostle, however, the Bible is silent not taking sides. It is interesting that you never hear about Barnabus again. On the other hand, later Paul would ask that Mark be brought to him because he was “useful to him for ministry” [2 Timothy 4:11]. And this Mark is the same Mark that eventually wrote the gospel of Mark. Bottom line is—we don’t know—who was right, but God did use their conflict for His purposes. They are both right and both wrong. I find it encouraging that even though Paul and Barnabus had their issues they were still willing to serve. They didn’t hang up their shoes—giving up. This shows you the attractiveness of message over the messengers. The church might be messy, but it is still the beautiful Bride of Christ.

If you serve in the church you are wise to remind yourself, first, work hard to fight for unity whenever possible. Paul says in a letter to a church, “I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” [Ephesians 4:1-3, cf. Colossians 3:12-17] Do you think your pastors, deacons, sound techs, worship leader, nursery workers, AWANA helpers, and Sunday School teachers are aware of this need for unity? People problems can come up frequently when serving the Lord together, but whenever possible strive for unity.

The number one reason why people leave a church or the mission field is because of conflict with a person or personality. As Sarah and I go to North Africa, pray for our team. Pray for an ethos of grace that seeks to resolve conflict biblically and quickly. I could not imagine doing ministry alone. That was my favorite part of ministry at BGBC, serving along side deacons, youth leaders, and teams of people who sought unity in community.

Second, serving together is far better than serving solo. Do you notice that Paul usually serves on a team? Rarely do you see him going solo, even in prison. I have heard many of reasons why people do not like to minister with others, like, “Our personalities just don’t jive,” “I’ve had too many bail and leave me with the bag,” or “I really work better by myself.” It is exceedingly selfish to serve God alone. What might be more selfish is not even engaging in ministry. Doing ministry with others might cause friction or factions, but that is no reason not to do ministry with one another. You might think you are more effective by yourself, but the Christians faith was not meant for Lone Rangers it is to be lived in community. My church has a core value that states, “We are devoted to making every member a minister.”  It takes a church to raise a Christian.

Third, serving with others closely mimics Jesus’ model of discipleship. Jesus’ idea of discipleship trains people on the job. Most people learn best by doing, which runs contrary to our culture that says you learn best by hearing. Serving with others makes ministry transitions easier. Who will take over after Sunday School or small group when you leave? Are you grooming your replacement in the food pantry or youth group? Have you asked God to give you a Timothy [or Tabitha, 9:36-43] to train [2 Timothy 2:2]? Doing ministry alone can be dangerous. It can leave a vacuum after you’re gone. It is also dangerous because it is easy to cheat and lie about your service because no eyes are watching you. Serving with others keeps you honest. Follow the model of Jesus and His disciples: never serve alone.

Need an example? Look at how Paul picks out young Timothy [vs.1-5]. Paul needs help so he grabs Tim and gets him ready to serve.[1] Paul grows to love Timothy so much that he often refers to him as his, “true child in the faith.” [1 Timothy 1:2] and, “I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me.” [Philippians 2:19-23] These are the kinds of relationships that make doing ministry together worth it.

2. NEVER ARE YOU CALLED BY GOD TO DO WHAT YOU ARE NOT ALREADY DOING [Acts 16:6-10]

The time has now arrived for Paul’s second ministry road trip. With the car packed and ready to go Paul and Timothy ventured out towards Asia [Turkey], but the Holy Spirit did not permit them to go. In fact, God says “NO!” to four cities in Asia, but He does say, “YES!” giving them permission to go to Troas [Troy], which ultimately leads them to Philippi [Macedonia; Europe]. Paul’s plan was to go where he had already preached before [15:36], but God had plans to send him to preach to the unreached people West of Jerusalem.

While in Troas, God gives Paul a vision. In the vision, a man urges him to come to Macedonia to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. This is the passage of Scripture we dub, ‘The Macedonian Call.’ It is a well-known passage that missionaries often use to validate the country they believe God has called them to evangelize. You must be very careful to label a calling to a place or a project. You will hear people say, “I’m called to the poor. I’m call to Pakistan. I’m not called to kids! I am certainly not called to be an evangelist.” Nobody would dare to argue with the calling of God on your life. But there are two problems with this. First, it ignores the fact that missions is the primary purpose of the church; and if you’re called to be a part of the church, then you’re also called to missions. You can’t be an employee of Taco Bell without selling tacos, and you can’t be a part of the church without doing missions. It’s that simple.

Second, it often misunderstands the idea of God’s calling upon one’s life. The Bible describes vocational calling to ministry as a function of the local church, not as the autonomous decision of the individual. If you are serving a place or project before you are serving a Person you got to ask yourself, who’s mission are you on? Paul is sent out from his local church to preach the gospel of Christ as an ambassador of His church. Paul’s call is fairly general. Paul’s calling to go to Macedonia never interferes with his original and overarching calling, which was Paul was to serve Christ and suffer for His namesake [cf. Acts 9:15-16]. Paul is not so much called to a place as he is called to preach the gospel in that place. Macedonia is a really big place. So the first place they decide to go is the strategic port city, Philippi.

Paul isn’t called to something new, He is called to do what he’s been doing all along—preach the gospel. Now God is simply directing his servant to do just that in a new place. Like Paul, your primary calling is to serve Christ, which will also be followed by suffering. Suffering always precedes glory. And suffering paves the way for Christ and His church.[2]

There are thousands of unreached people groups around the world and there are thousands of spiritually profitable projects needing willing servants. If you are unsure what to do or where to go: Research an unreached people group [JoshuaProject.net]. Adopt one [globalroar.org]. Give or go. Pray for people of peace around you [Matthew 10; Luke 10]. If there are none, continue on to the next place. Some soils are not ready to receive the Word of God. The point is: the kingdom of God is near, so get off your sofa callused rear!

3. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE RADICAL REWARDS OF SACRIFICIAL SERVICE [Acts 16:11-15]

Again, Paul and Timothy [and Luke] hop into the station wagon and head over to Philippi. It must have been a long trip—too much pork rinds and licorice. Once they reached their destination they decide to rest a few days. I imagine they scoped the place out before going gangbusters on the good news. They could not find a local synagogue [usually the first place to meet God-fearers], which means there were less than 10 Jewish men [minimum needed to start a synagogue].  In non-Jewish places Jews would gather in obscure places because Macedonians saw them as a cult. So they went outside the gate to find worshipers. They found a women’s prayer gathering on the Sabbath Day down by the river. There they met Lydia.

Lydia, owned an upper-class clothing shop in an upper-class kind of town. Like Martha Stewart or Oprah, Lydia’s an ancient independent and businesswoman women. She sold of purple fabric, which is the color most royals would wear. Lydia reminds me of a woman I met while in South Africa. Gerda, a middle-aged single woman, sold tie-dyed fabric. I met her while buying a gift for my mother. She knew I was from out of town and asked, “Where are you from?” I said, “The United States.” With curiosity she asked, “What are you doing here?” “I am hear to share Christ with your community, see His church grow and find people interested in knowing more about Him and His Word.” To my surprise she opened her home and the next week I started a small group Bible study that later became the seed to a new church.

Lydia becomes the first European convert and opens her home the church for the first church in Philippi. She is an immediate missionary. And she is a single gal with a clothing shop. God uses single females [i.e. Mary Slessor, Amy Carmichael, Lottie Moon, Elizabeth Elliott, Rachel Saint]. Today 20-25% of the missionaries are single women, and this does not count the 40% that are mom’s or wives. Women married to Jesus and His mission are so needed. You never know when you might meet the next Lydia. You might be the next Lydia!

In the church, we value male spiritual leadership because the Bible empowers men to this position. This does not mean women do not have a purpose in the church and global ministry. The church and Bible have a favorable view of women.[3] In fact, true Christianity has the most favorable view of women among all the religions of the world [cf. Proverbs 31]. God clearly gives distinct roles to men and women, but they are equal in value because both men and women are created in His image [Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:28]. Both sexes are marked by their Makers image.

What God is interested in most is what kind of woman you are—a woman of Christlike character. Young or old, God is looking for godly gals. Some of the greatest servants I know are older women who barely venture from their home, but pray earnestly and encourage rigorously the church.

Let’s look for a moment at her turning point. First, she comes to Christ because someone told her the gospel. Faith comes by hearing. Someone must speak the gospel. The point of speaking the gospel is to give something to see. Paul was not some irresistible orator, but his God is a relentless heart pursuer. Second, the Lord is the key actor in the story, not us. You have a significant role in speaking the gospel, but it is the Lord who does the decisive work. He “opens the heart” of Lydia. This is a beautiful picture of God’s salvation. This means He takes out the hard heart of stone, and puts in the heart of flesh [Ezekiel 36:26]; He says with sovereign authority, “Let there be light,” and “shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” [2 Corinthians 4:6]. Third, she pays attention to the truth. The effect of the Lord’s opening her heart is a true hearing of the gospel. She was “granted repentance” [2 Timothy 2:25] and faith [Philippians 1:29].

Without question or complaint Paul and Timothy follow Christ’s course direction to Philippi. God leads them to a businesswoman praying to God and He opens her heart. They continue to minister and meet another girl, but she’s quiet messed up. She’s a demonized slave girl who was being exploited for her fortune-telling skills [16:16-24]. Jesus shines light into her darkness. And now there was no hiding the fact that God is at work in Philippi. Her owners get ticked because their hope of making money left with her evil spirit. So they had Paul and Timothy beaten and thrown in jail. They took a dull or dreary situation chained up in the damp dark cell and had a worship service [25-33]. What follows next is as Jerry Lee Lewis sang, there was a “whole lotta shaking going on!” God orchestrates an earthquake and all the prisoners are set free. The jailor, now out of a job, comes to Christ amidst the rubble. Ironically, the jailor is freed from the bondage of his sin.

All this, in Acts 16, is here to show you that God rewards those who sacrificially serve for His namesake. The reward is the salvation of lost souls and the planting of the first church in Europe. In its inaugural membership: a businesswoman and her household; a messed up slave-girl; and a suicidal city employee—a jailer and his household. That’s the church in Philippi that God built. And He is still building churches today and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. In Christ, you are the beautiful Bride of Christ!

With that I encourage you to never do ministry alone, know you are never called by God to do what you are not already doing, and never underestimate the rewards of sacrificial service. Know that your ministry matters in eternity. Those kids in AWANA or Sunday School, the men and women in your Bible Study or small group, those neighbors in your neighborhood, those students in your class or bus, and those you work with at the office are looking to you to show them through your words and deeds the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is the reward of sacrificial service. The motivation of Paul’s service was not guilt, but the grace of God he was given on the Damascus road [cf. 1 Timothy 1:12ff]. The only lasting motivation you will have to get off the sofa and into the service of Christ is meditating on the glorious grace in Jesus Christ.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 3:12-14]


[1] He encourages Timothy to get circumcised, not because he would be a more fit to serve. The Jerusalem Council settles this debate [cf. Acts 15:1-35].Timothy’s mother was Jewish and he would be ministering to Jews. He was giving up his rights to reach the Jews [1 Corinthians 9:19-23].

[2] Cf. Romans 12:1-13; 2 Corinthians 4; Philippians 3:7-11; Hebrews 12:1-13

[3] Luke shares the stories of many women in the Book of Acts. Women like Lydia were particularly prominent in Paul’s missionary efforts in this portion of Acts—the women of Thessalonica (17:4) and of Berea (17:12), Damaris in Athens (17:34), and Priscilla in Corinth (18:2). Priscilla and Lydia took an active role in the ministry of their churches. For an excellent treatment of Lydia, see R. Ryan, “Lydia, a Dealer in Purple Goods,” TBT 22 (1984): 285–89.

from fanatic to follower

Fanatics aren’t hard to find. Each weekend around the country fanatics pack stadiums proudly displaying the colors and logos of their favorite team and passionately cheer and shout for hits, sacks and complete annihilations. Football fanatics have been known to wear pirate eye patches, pig snouts, and large wedges of cheese. Honestly, I do not see anything wrong with the cheesehead!

Political systems have also produced more than one fanatic. Have you heard of Usama Bin Laden, Idi Amin, Gaddafi, Mugabe, and Kim Jong Il? These are household names. Historically you have certainly learned about Adolf Hilter, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Leopold II, and Nero who burned Christians as lighting for his courtyards.

Religious fanatics aren’t hard to find either. Thousands of Muslims pilgrimage yearly to Mecca, Hindu’s worship a pantheon of more than 300 million deities, Buddhist bow to an icon of bald man with a big belly, some religious radicals commit suicide in car bombings to gain merit in the afterlife, and on TV you seen “Christian” evangelists sporting big hair and big bank accounts.

Another religious fanatic that you may be aware of lived shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was a member of an elite religious group that wielded considerable political power in his region. His name was Saul of Tarsus.[1] His studied in Jerusalem under the Jewish scholar Gamaliel. He slavishly devoted himself to the Old Testament laws along with hundreds of other laws the Pharisees concocted [Galatians 1:13-14]. He assumed he was pleasing God as a religious fanatic.

STORY OF AN ENEMY OF CHRIST [Acts 9:1-2]

The one thing that Saul saw as a threat to his rigorous religious system of Judaism was this newfound faith called followers of the Way. Jews were converting in droves becoming followers of the Way of Christ. These followers realized “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which men must be saved” [Acts 4:12], but the name of Jesus. In zealous response Saul attacked Jesus-followers seeking to be a one-man roadblock to the Way.

After he just stood by and watch the stoning of Stephen[2] it is said that Saul “was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” [Acts 8:3] Then in Acts 9:1–2, Paul was not just bullying Christians, he was “breathing threats.” It is as though persecution was the air he breathed. Paul was breathing threats and murder against Christians, and took his persecution 150 miles north of Jerusalem to Damascus and planned to bring Christians back for punishment.

While Saul travel down the road to Damascus, God is taking Saul down the road towards transformation. The conversion of Saul is the conversion of a stanch opponent of Christianity. Today I will look at the story of Paul’s conversion to Christ. I want you to see God’s purpose in converting Paul was to give you hope for yourself and for the people you want to see converted.

SUDDEN AND UNEXPECTED CONVERSION [Acts 9:3-9]

Saul is the last person on earth you would expect to convert to Christ. He was not open to considerations or interested in learning about the Way. He was closed and convinced Christ’s claims were blasphemous. His heart was hard and dead in his trespasses and sins. He is the kind of guy you wish would go away or that God would somehow smite. Do you know some Saul’s? How often do you pray for their salvation rather than their destruction?

“Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him.” [Acts 9:3] The whole event came out of the blue, like a surprise party or hidden camera show. Paul’s first encounter with Christ was unexpected. Paul never links his conversion to any long process of God convicting him of sin or of frustrating him or of stories scaring him with death and hell. All those things may have happened in an instant as he fell to the ground. But there was no long process preparing the soil of his heart. The conversion was sudden and utterly unexpected.

When I consider Saul’s conversion it gives me courage that my prayers and efforts to see my friends and family saved might not happen immediately, but it might happen suddenly. It reminds me of my gramps conversion. I had been sharing my faith openly with him since I came to Christ as a teenager. I had many talks with him about my faith in Christ. He would listen, but normally respond by saying, “No thanks Justin, that is good for you, but I am happy being Catholic.”

I never gave up praying or sharing. Sometimes I would be frustrated when I would not see any progress or signs God was preparing his soul. Until about 3-years ago, just after he found out that he had a malignant form of cancer. I received a call at the church and he said, “Justin. Counselor. I have two questions for you: First, what do you think about my girlfriend and I living together? Second, how do I know Christ is Savior?” His questions caught me by surprise. I answer his first question, letting him know I would rather see them marry but encouraged him of my love. Then we spent the majority of time talking about his second question. He did not make a decision that day.

A week later I received another call at the church from gramps. He started off by say, “Justin. Pastor. I have two things to share with you. First, I have asked my girlfriend to marry me. Second, I have given my life to Jesus Christ.” A few months later on his deathbed he looked me in the eyes—with tears in his—and said confidently, “I look forward to seeing my Savior.” Gramps conversion was sudden and unexpected, like Saul’s. Keep praying and sharing the love of Christ because He is Truth and the Truth will set free.

SOVEREIGN GRACE ON DISPLAY [Acts 9:10-20]

Saul’s conversion was a miraculous display of God’s sovereign grace. Jesus as commander-in-chief of the universe took over that day on the Damascus road. There is no doubt that only Christ could change a soul like Saul’s. How is grace of God on display in Saul’s salvation?

First, God causes a light to flash from heaven with blinding brightness. Saul is left blind for three days—until Ananias prayed and laid hands on him [v.17]. God blinded him and God gave him sight again. This was a powerful sign to Saul of his actual spiritual darkness. Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever followers Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” [John 8:12] The Pharisees doubted and questioned His bold statement of authority, but just a few moments later He gave them a divine object lesson healing a man born blind [cf. John 9:1-41].

Second, Jesus is seen as totally authoritative when He speaks to Saul and gives him an unquestionable command. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” [vs.5b–6] Jesus does not bargain, debate or give Saul a choice in the matter. Jesus means to have Saul in His service and there is no question that He will succeed.

Third, Jesus chose Paul long before Paul chose Jesus. “Before I was born God set me apart and called me by His grace to preach the gospel to the Gentiles” [cf. Galatians 1:15]. Jesus speaks to Ananias as if He knows Saul will go along with what he says. Naturally Ananias is afraid to go pray for Paul, but Jesus says to him in a vision, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;[3] I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” [vs.15-16] Ironically, Saul the persecutor will face persecution in his future ministry. Christ is calling Saul to salvation and a ministry filled with suffering.

Fourth, He uses reluctant Ananias as His ambassador. God gives him a vision to share the gospel with someone he really is not comfortable. He’s heard of Saul’s bad reputation, and knows he could be walking into a prison sentence. I can hear Ananias asking, “What about that sweat old lady across the street who always makes my favorite cookies? Or the kid next-door who is really lost but faithfully comes to our weekly AWANA outreach?” Jesus used Ananias, but the glory for his salvation goes to Jesus.

I can relate to Ananias. I can be timid at times, I’ve been known to ignore God’s tug to tell others about Him. One of the simplest, but effective ways I’ve been able to remedy this in my life to pray for/with the often ignored people around me [i.e. sales clerk, bank teller, mailman, waiter]. Surprisingly they all respond favorably and God’s grace is on display.

SAUL’S CONVERSION IS FOR YOUR SAKE [1 Timothy 1:12-17]

God had you in view when He chose Saul and saved him by His sovereign grace. Later Paul reflects with his young pastoral student Timothy, “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost [chief, first place]. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Timothy 1:12-17]

If you believed on Jesus for eternal life—or if you may yet believe on Him for eternal life—Paul’s conversion is for your sake. How does his conversion attest to this?

First, even a religious fanatic can be an enemy of God. Before Christ you were an enemy of God [Romans 5:10]. Paul’s life as a fanatical Pharisee was a long, long trial to Jesus. Jesus asked, “Why do you persecute me?” In other words, “Your life of unbelief and rebellion is a persecution of Me!” Paul had been set apart for God since before he was born. Therefore all his life was one long abuse of God, and one long rejection and mockery of Jesus who loved him. That is why Paul says his conversion is a grand demonstration of Jesus’ longsuffering.

Second, no one is too severe a sinner to be withheld forgiveness of his or her sin. You might have lied, cheated, murdered someone with your words, or blasphemed God to His face. You can be forgiven! Saul’s salvation was for your sake to show you the patience of Christ. Lest you lose heart and think He could not really save you. Lest you think He is quick to anger. Lest you think you have gone too far away. Lest you think your dearest one cannot be converted—suddenly, unexpectedly, by the sovereign grace of Jesus.

Third, God uses the blood of his believers to build his church. The stoning of Stephen was no mistake. It led Saul down the Damascus road, down the road towards transformation, paved the way through severe suffering so the seed of the church and the saving message of Christ could reach you and me. A few months ago, I met a gathering of MBB believers in North Africa who suffered immense persecution, public humiliation, loss of jobs, and separation from family all for the sake of coming to Christ. Their perseverance has led to the birth of a vibrant church among an unreached people group.

It is okay to be a fanatic as long as you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. By definition a fanatic is a person filled with obsessive enthusiasm and single-minded zeal. This kind of passion is necessary as a follower of Christ since the Way is not easy. Jesus does promise forgiveness, but He also promises a rocky road filled with temptation and suffering. Are you ready to walk down the road of Golgotha bearing your cross, dying to self and living for Christ?


[1] Saul is the Hebrew name for Paul.

[2] Stephen was the first recorded martyr of Christianity [Acts 7:54-8:3].

[3] Paul did get to carry Christ’s name to King Aggripa [Acts 25:13ff] and Caesar [25:1-12]