Acts Chapter 8 God Kicks His Followers Out of the Nest

I have often heard people get mad at the devil when bad things happen, but who do you get mad at when bad happen because of what God does?  Or for that matter, how do you know whom to blame when something bad does happen?  Following the day of Pentecost, the believers enjoyed daily fellowship meetings, sharing meals in each other’s homes, good preaching by the apostles, and prayer meetings.  My church fellowship would call this revival.  Yet, it all fell apart quickly because of a persecution.  If this were my church, people would be praying against the devil.  Many would pray, in faith, believing for deliverance from God.  And still, the persecution persisted and the believers were forced to flee. 

Often, the devil gets the blame for what God does.  God was behind the persecution that scattered the church from Jerusalem.

God was behind the suffering

In my experience, when a church experiences a revival, people flock to the church to experience the good things that happen.  They want to be a part of the miracles, the music, and the message of an “alive” church.  Such churches increase in attendance rapidly.  The pastor of those churches gains great standing within his circles.  Then, after a few years, the revival seems to stop, the church decreases in attendance, and the pastor moves on to another flock.

The point is, God doesn’t want his followers remaining in one place in large numbers.  He wants them to “going into all the world…”  But, his followers want to congregate in large numbers.  So, God has to prod them out of the nest.

This may not sit well with you.  In chapter 8 of the book of Acts, a respected, Spirit-filled church leader was killed.  Church members were thrown into prison.  To escape trouble, Jesus’ followers abandoned their homes and became refugees in other countries.

The hard truth is, without God allowing painful things to happen to his people, they would not move out on their own. 

God was behind the scattering

There is an old saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” 

Philip was one of the people who fled.  In Jerusalem, he was a man full of the Spirit who preached the gospel and brought healing to the sick and demonized.  In the countryside, he was the same man who did the same things. 

Among people of low class, he preached the good news.  To the powerful, he preached the good news.

People of low class were healed and delivered.  The powerful was baptized.

It makes sense that God wasn’t looking to build a mega-church in Jerusalem.  He wanted everyone everywhere to be part of the interconnected church.

God was behind the salvation

Many, many people heard Philip and believed on Jesus.  Even the sorcerer converted to faith in Jesus.  Demonized people were delivered.  Sick people were healed.  The treasurer to the queen of Ethiopia believed on Jesus.

So, who do we blame for bad things happening to the believers in Jerusalem?  For that matter, who gets the credit for the salvations?

We who follow Jesus should think long and hard before pursuing the building of a mega congregation.  It would make sense to look to where people most need salvation and pursue them.  Otherwise, we may be looking for answers as to why our revival has ended and bad things have caused us to leave our lives of blessed comfort.

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2nd Timothy 1:6-14 Appeal for Loyalty to Paul and the Gospel

 

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands…

Often, beliers become frustrated with their religion because what they practice does not produce the results that they expected.  This is often true with those who look to my religious community for something better than what they were getting from their own religious culture.  However, what we expect from the Holy Spirit must match watch God has said about the Holy Spirit if we are to avoid spiritual frustration and disappointment.

So, the question is, what difference does it make to be filled with the Holy Spirit?

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

Before answering that question, I need to address two misconceptions. You don’t get filled with the Holy Spirit, you fill with the Holy Spirit. Second, the gift of the Holy Spirit isn’t about the emotional enrichment of the believer. 

Paul said there are three characteristics that result from those who have “fanned into flame” the gift of the Holy Spirit.  First, Spirit-filled believers gain the power to do things.  A Spirit nurtured believer has the ability to identify something that needs to be done and to acquire the ability to meet those needs.

Second, the Spirit-filled believer loves people.  Love motivates the believer to gain the ability to meet needs in a way that honors God.

Third, the Spirit-filled believer has the self-discipline needed to overcome fear and to persevere through difficulties that get in the way of doing good.  Self-discipline is gained through training and through overcoming challenges. 

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is imparted to those who ask God for it.  But that is only the beginning.  It is similar to making a sports team.  Getting on the team is only the start.  Improving skills, playing with passion, and working as a team are necessary for success as a player.  Being filled with the Holy Spirit is only the start.  Recognizing needs, loving people, and doing what needs to be done are required for success as a Spirit-filled believer.

The Man of Lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12)

 

Have you wondered how seemingly smart people can get caught up in really dumb things because of religion?  In my years as a Pentecostal church pastor, one of my greatest frustrations has been trying to bring people back to the truth who have gotten caught up in religious fantasy.  I must confess that I wasn’t good at it.  The truth is, as human history continues, people will tend to increasingly get caught up in religious insanity until the day comes when all of humanity will look to one person who represents the embodiment of what they desire from God.  Until then, religious insanity will continue because people will look for an easier way to God than through faith in the Savior.  There are three reasons why people get caught up in religious insanity mentioned in this passage.

First, people fear abandonment by God

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sister, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us… asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.

Fear causes people to do irrational things.  Someone who fears abandonment by someone whose love they crave may try harder to keep them which often leads to the ruining of the relationship.  People who fear that God doesn’t love them and will abandon them will also look for a way to make God love them so he doesn’t abandon them. 

God doesn’t abandon people.  People abandon God.

Second, people who fear abandonment are vulnerable to deception

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works.  He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing.

Much of what goes on in modern church culture has to do with making people feel loved by God.  Worship services are often designed to make people feel loved and accepted instead of drawing people to a righteous God who loves too much to leave us the way we are.   Be careful of those preachers of whatever religion who seek and claim to have God’s presence because of the manifestations of signs and wonders. 

Third, people are deceived because they don’t want to acknowledge the truth.

They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

The truth is this:  People are powerless over their own sin and only the loving God can save them from themselves.  This requires a lifetime of repentance.  By repentance, I mean confessing our wrongs, changing our behaviors, and inviting others to join us on the path.  Entrance into the path of salvation is God’s free gift.  Walking that path requires humility and determination to put Jesus’ teaching into daily practice.

They day will come when all religions will agree that there is an easier path to righteousness than faithfulness to God.  Until then, it is up to those who love God to remember that God loves us and that he will not abandon us along the path of salvation.

Thanksgiving and Prayer (2nd Thessalonians 1:3-12)

I like to think back to the time before my wife and I were married when we used to write letters to each other.  We used to send letters through the “snail mail” and by fax machine almost daily.  (this was before email came along).  I would study her letters to look for clues to who she was and how much she liked me.  I enjoyed her letters and eagerly anticipated getting them.

Paul’s letters were written in the same spirit.  They were meant to be studied.  They give clues to who Paul was and who God is.  In the beginning of the second letter to the Thessalonian believers, I noticed three truths about God in the first section that tell me that God likes his followers.

First, God notices those who follow him.

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.

In John’s letters, he says that by loving your fellow follower of Jesus, one shows love for God.  He also says that people show their love for God by obeying Jesus’ commands.  So, when Paul writes to the Thessalonians, he is complementing the way their love for God has grown.  Paul notices their love and faith. God notices, too. 

Second, God has his followers back.

You will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God… 

               He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you…

                         and give relief to you who are troubled…

God notices your love and faith and he responds to it, too.  Now, I can’t imagine why someone who genuinely follows Jesus Christ would every become the object of scorn.  Those who truly follow Christ are at their core peaceful, charitable, and self-controlled.  Yet, for some reason they often receive persecution.  But, God does take care of those who follow him.  He gives relief to the troubled, though he doesn’t promise their won’t be trouble.  For those who do the troubling, he promises trouble.  But for those who love him, he promises the kingdom of God.  Not a bad reward.

Third, God continues to grow the relationship with his followers.

We constantly pray for you:

              that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power

                                  he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.

Love either grows or it grows cold and dies.  Not only did God inspire the letters Paul wrote, but he continues to bring the word to life in those who read them and follow them.  He gives more ability to love and persevere, which causes more love for God, which results in more ability to love and persevere, which results in more love for God…

 

On Not Loving the World (1 John 2:15-17)

 

Do not love the world or anything in the world. 

If anyone loves the world, love the Father is not in them.

Be careful not to read too much into what John says here.  He is going to explain what he means by “the world” in the next sentence.  Here, he warns against trying to love God and love selfish desires at the same time. 

How do you know what you love?  Simple.  When two things you think you love compete, the one you give your time and attention to is what you love. 

For everything in the world…

The lust of the flesh

The lust of the eyes,

And the pride of life

Comes not from the Father, but from the world.

John defines “the world” in this way:  Things you crave for physical pleasure, things you crave for emotional pleasure, and things you crave in order to be perceived favorable for yourself and before others.

So, when there is a conflict between doing what needs to be done for someone you love and what you want to satisfy your own cravings, who wins?  Many relationships have ended because craving trumped loving.

The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

Of course, John isn’t saying that pleasure isn’t inherently sinful.  Otherwise, who could go bowling?  However, using pleasure in a way that makes a person irresponsible, or in some way inhibits fulfilling their best selves is sinful.

Always remember, what is fun and feels good has no lasting value.  What is done to fulfill God’s will lasts forever.

Oh yeah, and what it God’s will?

That all people should be saved from the trap of this world and come to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Love and Hatred for Fellow Believers (1 John 2:3-11)

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.

I changed the way I do many things because I got married.  I didn’t change all at one, it took time, but I did change.

First, I changed how I did laundry.  My wife wanted me to sort clothes into dark/whites and cold water/warm water loads.  I used to just throw everything into one load and wash it on cold.

Second, I changed how I ate.  I cooked casseroles.  My wife preferred low fat foods.  I liked red meat, she preferred turkey.

I changed in many other ways as well.  She changed the ways she did things, too. 

Did we have to change?  Not necessarily.  But we did change.  We did it because we love each other.  I have a right to do things my way, but I learned what makes her happy.  I changed things because I love her.

Anyone who claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

In the same way my wife and I adopted lifestyle changes from each other, the same thing naturally happens with those who are in a relationship with Jesus Christ.  For me, that affects my life choices.

Modest living, continual self-searching, moving when led by the Spirit, acting out of compassion to help those in need, seeking forgiveness for wrongs, forgiving those who have wronged…

God doesn’t punish those who refuse to live as Jesus did.  At least not that I have observed.  But, when you are in a relationship with Jesus Christ, you naturally conform to the lifestyle he lived.

Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.

How do we show our gratitude for Jesus?  We love those who are loved by Him and who love Him.  Those who love my children are loved by me.  Those who love my children are loving me whether they know it or not.  However, anyone who may otherwise be my friend but hates my children doesn’t have my gratitude.  The Father sees love for other believers the same way.  You can’t love God without loving his children.

 

Light and Darkness, Sin and Forgiveness (1 John 1:5-2:2)

God is light; in him here is no darkness at all.

As a sports game official, I often experience the harsh unbiased truth of my ability to call a game while “coming into the light” of the video camera.  I have an idea of how well I perform based on my own observations and receiving feedback from other officials, coaches, and even fans. However, there is something about seeing oneself on tape that overcomes my ability to see myself in my own favored light.  The camera doesn’t lie, and I am forced to acknowledge the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The same thing happens when we come to God.  God is light, and when we have truly been in his presence, we have seen the truth about ourselves.  Coming to God means seeing him as he is, and reckoning ourselves with who we really are.

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.

Only a Christian can commit this sin.  Being in fellowship with God is the act of discovery of our flaws, frailties, and weaknesses.  There can be no other result of being in God’s presence.  More than once I have put on a clean “zebra” shirt only to take it off and throw it away because next to my partner’s new shirt, my white stripes appeared slightly grey.  Without anything to compare it to, I fooled myself into thinking that my shirt wasn’t grey and black instead of white and black.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Not only can I see that I am not pure when I am in God’s presence, but I can also see that no one else is either.  The act of coming to God with others is the act of taking the planks out of our own eyes.  It is liberating to not have to worry about others seeing my flaws, because those I am around have also exposed themselves to the light.  Together, we can acknowledge our flaws and help each other overcome them.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

The point is, God wants us in his light.  He wants us to see our flaws, frailties, and failures in the light of his love.  He wants us to have the opportunity to become increasingly holy.  Therefore, he forgives us and invites us into fellowship with Him. 

Discovering one’s own flaws can be humiliating.  Especially if one has been deceiving themselves for a long time.  That may be why some Christians claim to have not sinned.  Or, that some claim to be satisfied with their own holiness.  I suspect they are the same people who have developed an intolerance to the opinions, policies, and choices others make.

But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

Here’s the comforting thing about coming to God.  First, he has promised to forgive us of our sins.  Second, Jesus speaks on our behalf before the Father.  And finally, any punishment for our sins has already been paid by the same person who speaks on our behalf.  Therefore, there need not be any fear in coming to God.  He wants you to know him.  He wants you in his presence.  Through the discipline of coming to terms with and correction of our faults, frailties, and failures we grow in fellowship with him.