The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: February 2016 (page 1 of 2)

Sporadic

O Preacher“Get depressed?” my doctor’s assistant asked me last week.   “Sometimes,” I answered.  Were they afraid I’d commit suicide by chocolate-eating-orgy?  No, it was for the government or insurance or something.  But, yes, I do get depressed.  And sometimes the darkness just won’t lift.

I’m confessing this because I’d like you to know me better and to know why my blogging is sporadic.

I’ve had back troubles for about eight years (I’m 72).  I’ve had two open back surgeries, plus tons of tests and piles of pills.  Not long ago, doctors finally settled on a diagnosis:  primary lateral sclerosis.  It’s a chronic, incurable neurological disease that causes a slowly progressive weakness in voluntary muscle movement in the legs, arms and face. The speed and extent of the progression differs from person to person.  Along with the weakness in my legs and, to a lesser extent in my arms, is an ache in my legs, back and lately neck with changing intensity.  I need a walker to get around.  I planned to enter our county’s annual walker race recently, but it happened to fall on one of my weaker days.  Knowing I’d be lapped by a 91 year old grandmother, I stayed home.  (Just kidding.)

Almost two years ago, PLS compelled me to retire from pastoring.  I still loved what I was doing, but I was treading water (figuratively) and it wasn’t fair to the church to have 48% of a pastor.  (That percentage is quite accurate;  I did much research study.)   After 24 years at this church and 44 years in all, retirement brought a huge change-of-life for me.  I laugh, because one church member encouraged Lois (my wife) and me to take it easy and do some traveling.  The biggest trip I take these days, though, is down my driveway to the mailbox.  I haven’t been able to find a suitable postcard about it to send to my friends.

Blogging has become my means of ministry.  (I’m sure God invented the Internet for bigger reasons, but I’m thankful to be plugged in!)  However, my physical condition prevents me from writing more regularly.  I wish I could do one blog a day.  But there are times it takes me two or three days to write one. 

Depression hits when I let myself get under the weight of it all.  I lay in bed with my (mostly) sound mind thinking of all the things I can do and write.  Then I get up and my body becomes my enemy.  Of course I’ve prayed.  Many have prayed.  But God’s answer has been to give grace in my weakness instead of healing from it.  (My condition is far less harsh than Job’s, but there are days I think he and I could have gotten along quite well.  )

Of course the promise of eternal life in a new righteous creation gives me hope.  Problem is, I’m the kind of guy who prefers pictures before I go to a new place. Instead God has given only the  highly symbolic Book of Revelation word-picture.  I content myself with the new creation being “more than I can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20); however I’d still like to be in better shape in this old creation.  So I keep praying for healing, though, I have to admit, not with any great expectation.  (Please don’t tell anyone I said that.)

My wife and children and grandchildren have been great in their understanding and care.  Yet even that’s hard, since I’m used to being a doer, not a receiver.

Well, I don’t want to rain on your parade any more today.  Just wanted you to know me a bit better and to understand my blogging inconsistency.  I appreciate so much that you read what I write.  I sincerely pray daily that the Lord will use it in your life to cause you to know him better and love him more.

I appreciate your prayers for me.  And I will pray for you.  If you’d like me to pray about a specific need, just reply to a blog.  I won’t publish any prayer request you send; but I will pray.  That will be a much-appreciated expansion of my ministry at this time in my life.

Thank you for the privilege of ministering to you through my writing.  I thank God for the opportunity, and I thank him for you.  May his Word continue to teach us all, and reprove and correct us, and train us in right-living, so we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16,17).

Grateful for His covenant love and infinite wisdom
Allan

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Search and Rescue

O PreacherJesus was no Dalai Lama enthroned on a high Tibet mountain waiting for seekers.  Nor did he hold to the philosophy, “If you build it, they will come.”  Jesus gave us his strategy:  ” . . . the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).

In the Book of Acts, author Luke reports how the Holy Spirit carried on Jesus’ mission through the church.  We see it again in the newly-planted church at Antioch . . .

In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:1-3).

Probably the Holy Spirit spoke through the gift of prophecy while these leaders were open and sensitive to him during worship and fasting.  His message was clear.  Barnabas and Saul were to be set apart for a specially-called mission—as we’ll see, a search and rescue mission similar to Jesus’.  The other leaders designated them as church representatives and sent them off.  This mission would eventually reach Rome itself, the heart of the Empire—and perhaps even Spain on the eastern Atlantic.

Barnabas and Saul left from Antioch’s port city, Seleucia, headed for Cyprus.  The island, the Mediterranean’s third largest, lay 275 miles to the west.

The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.  They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos (Acts 13:4-6a).

Their search and rescue mission took them from the port of Salamis on the east to the western-most city of Paphos.  As was to become Paul’s practice, they preached Jesus as Messiah in the Jewish synagogues along the way.  John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin, accompanied them.  It’s been speculated that his “help” was perhaps to pass along his eyewitness report of Jesus’ suffering and death.  When they arrived at Paphos, things got a bit exciting.

There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus,  who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God.  But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.  Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said,  “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?  Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand.  When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord (Acts 13:6b-12).

Both Salamis and Paphos were flourishing centers for commerce and the worship of the pagan goddess called “the Paphian”.  For more than 50 years, Rome had ruled Cyprus through the administration of a proconsul, the current being Sergius Paulus.

That he calls for Barnabas and Saul “to hear the word of God” is quite extraordinary.  He’s “an intelligent man” wielding significant power.  Barnabas and Saul are nobodies without authority or political prestige.  If one didn’t know better, he might think the Holy Spirit had already been at work!

But so is the devil.  Elymas the magician, a member of the proconsul’s court,  sees Sergius Paulus starting to accept the missionaries’ message and tries to divert him.  Paul will not allow it.  Led by the Holy Spirit, he confronts the magician, calls him some non-politically correct names and curses him with temporary blindness.  While poor Elymas fumbles around for someone to take his hand and get him out of there, the proconsul believes the amazing teaching about the Lord.

We’re not told anything about the results of the missionaries preaching anywhere on Cyprus, except at Paphos.  As far as Luke’s account shows, no one believed, though seeds may have been planted.  But as far as I can tell, there was one Gentile proconsul on the far western end of Cyprus, 275 miles away from Antioch, the Holy Spirit apparently had searched out and begun working in.  When he hears two “nobody” Jewish preachers are in town telling about Jesus, he calls them in.  And the Holy Spirit uses a Jewish spiritual con-man’s opposition attempts to confirm the Gospel and the proconsul believes.  If I’m getting this right, this was a Spirit-directed search and rescue mission for one man.

If you are a Jesus faith-follower like me, that means at some point in our lives the Holy Spirit went on a search and rescue mission for you and for me.  In our case, we’re the “nobodies.”  Yet the eternal God of the universe, not only sent his Son to the cross, he sent someone with the Gospel through whom he searched for and rescued us.

We would do well to sit quietly and ponder that wonder, then worship him—not only singing praise to him with our words but serving him with our lives.

 

 

 

 

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The State Can’t Stop the Church

P.Allan“The days of gospel persecution in the United States no longer just hang on the distant horizon; they are already here, at least for some. It’s beginning with the bakers, florists, and photographers. Before long, the consensus may be that faithful biblical exposition is ‘hate speech’ (John Piper, Desiring God Ministries, Think It Not Strange).  Fear mongering?   Hardly.  The signs are here.  And for some, the substance has started.

But Acts 12 gives us Jesus-followers confidence and informs believers and unbelievers alike that the State can never stop the church.

King Herod’s Persecution (12:1-5)

Herod Agrippa (10 B.C. – 44 A.D.) ruled Palestine for Rome.  He was said to be “a pious observer of Jewish practices and a ruthless suppressor of minorities when they became disruptive”  (William J. Larkin, Jr., A Commentary on the Book of Acts).  For reasons we’re not told he began to persecute the church.  James,

John’s brother, he had killed.  Peter he had arrested, perhaps to meet the same fate.

It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.  When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.  So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

How could the Christians withstand the king who represented the Roman Empire?  Their only weapon was prayer.  Author Luke tells us “the church was earnestly praying to God for him”.  The Greek word, ektenos, implies they were praying fervently and continually.  James’ death was a blow to the believers; they didn’t want Peter to be martyred too.

At this moment, as I wrote in “Think It Not Strange” (http://theoldpreacher.com/think-it-not-strange/), we have brothers and sisters in Christ somewhere in the world suffering persecution.  Lois and I include them in our daily prayer time together.  Although we don’t know their names or even exactly where they are, the Lord does.  I believe not only does the Lord use our prayers for them; praying like this prepares us for the time persecution hits closer to home.

Peter’s Angelic Rescue (12:6-19)

For the sake of space I’ll tell this part of the story . . . Between two soldiers, bound with two chains, on the eve of his trial, Peter was sleeping in prison.  Was it the Lord giving his beloved rest on such a night?  Suddenly a radiant angel appeared.  He poked Peter awake.  “Hurry, get up!”  As Peter did, his chains fell off.  “Get dressed! Follow me!”  Peter thought he was dreaming.  They walked past Guard Station #1, then #2.  As they approached the outside gate, it opened by itself.  One block away the angel disappeared.  Suddenly it dawned on him that this was real. 

He headed for John’s (also called Mark) mother Mary’s house where he knew a prayer meeting was being held for him.  A knock on the outer door brought a servant girl, Rhoda.  Hoping to get inside without being seen, he called out.  Rhoda recognized his voice and, instead of opening the door, was so happy she ran back inside and announced, “It’s Peter!”  They thought she was crazy.  So, with Peter standing nervously outside still knocking, the prayer meeting turned into a dispute.  “It’s Peter!”  “You”re crazy!”  “No, really; I know his voice.”  You have too much wine with dinner?”  “I’m telling you, it’s Peter!”  “You’re dreaming!”  Finally, some wise soul suggested they open the door.  Presto!  There stood Peter.  After explaining his rescue, he set off for the church safe house.

In the morning, as you can imagine, a bit of a brouhaha broke out at the city jail.  King Herod was, well let’s just say, not pleased.  Furious, he ordered a search, but no Peter anywhere.  Then he interrogated the guards who had nothing to say.  Herod had no one left to kill, so the guards suffered his wrath.

Why did the Lord rescue Peter and allow James be put to the sword?  In Acts 26:16,17 Paul explained his conversion.  The Lord appeared to him and told him I am “delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you . . . ”  Implication:  the Lord’s hand protects his servants so they can fulfill their calling.  Presumably, when they finally do, the Lord calls them home.  James had done his job.  Peter had more work to do.

From “ground level”, though, the State seems to have won.  Just ten years after Jesus’ resurrection, one of the twelve apostles has been beheaded.  Despite Peter’s escape, Herod seems obsessed with mutilating the church one member at a time.  However . . .

King Herod’s Death (12:20-23)

One day conducting ordinary kingly business . . .

Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people.  They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.”  Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

Church members may be persecuted and suffer real loss.  We may even be martyred.  (Only the Lord knows what awaits us in days of growing gospel persecution.)  But death is the corridor to Jesus.  And eventually, the persecutors become worm food.

The Multiplied Spread of God’s Word (12:24,25).

But the word of God continued to increase and spread.  When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.  When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.

Focus on the first sentence.  James has gone to Jesus.  The king got eaten by worms and died a drawn out, painful, humiliating death.  “But”—I love that word in these battles!  “But the word of God continued to increase and spread.”  

Be encouraged.  Be informed.  Regardless of what persecution may come, the State can’t stop the Church of Jesus Christ!

Celebrate that with the video above.  The music style may not be your kind, but the song is ours to sing because of our Lord!

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The Gospel to Poles-Apart People

O PreacherA lesbian once phoned to ask if she and her partner would be welcomed at our church.  I was totally unprepared.  I wondered to myself how our people would respond.  I wasn’t sure.  So I ended up telling her they would be more comfortable elsewhere.  After I hung up, I had second thoughts.  Did I miss an opportunity to get in on something God may have been doing in those women’s lives?  Or did they firmly believe that Jesus accepted them as lesbians?

The Aftermath of Peter Visiting Cornelius.

Among the Jewish Christian church were men firmly convinced that any non-Jew who joined the church needed circumcision.  So when Peter returned to Jerusalem, he was confronted by critics . . .

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.  So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him  and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”  Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened:  “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was.  I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air.  Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’  “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’  “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’  This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.  “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying.  The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house.  He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter.  He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’  “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.  Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”  When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:1-18).

Thankfully they resolved the conflict.  The coming of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his guests sealed the deal.  “So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”  When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

I wonder.  I know that circumcision and lesbianism are vastly different issues.  I know that same-sex practice is sinful and that many believe it isn’t.  But must a lesbian turn away from her lesbianism before she can become a Christian?  Must she renounce her lesbian practice before the church welcomes her in love?  A practicing lesbian shouldn’t ultimately feel comfortable in our churches, just as an adulterer shouldn’t.  But is it possible to love them into hearing the truth of the gospel?  Could our churches do that? Suppose the lesbian couple spoke in tongues as they did at Pentecost?   Would we receive that as a sign of God’s acceptance of them (not their lesbian practice) or would we condemn their “charismatic” practice?

The Gospel Reaches Gentile Antioch                                                         

Antioch, the seat of the Roman provincial administration in Syria, was the world’s third largest city behind Rome and Alexandria (Egypt).  Known for its sexual immorality (largely because of its pagan cults),  it was about to become the center of Gentile Christianity.  Author Luke reports that the church was planted there as a result of earlier persecution in Jerusalem about 490 miles to the south.

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews.  Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.  The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.  News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.  He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.  Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,  and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.  During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.  One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)  The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea.  This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:19-30).

The “men of Cyprus and Cyrene” took a momentous step by “preaching the Lord Jesus” to these Gentiles.  This time no controversy erupted (though the “Gentile issue” was far from settled).  Perhaps that had much to do with Barnabas (“the son of encouragement“) and Saul, who both were Grecian Jews, not “Jewish” Jews who insisted Gentiles become circumcised Jews to become Christian.

And perhaps they also understood that all of us are “unclean” before the holy God.  Paul knew that . . .

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–
of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason
I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners,
Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience
as an example for those who would believe on him
and receive eternal life.
(1 Timothy 1:15,16)

Among some Jews, circumcision had become a badge of superiority.  They were God’s chosen people.  I’m guessing that “Jewish supremacy” at least partly motivated them.  And nothing turns people off to the gospel like pride.  When the gospel is preached by a “supremacist”, unbelievers can “smell” the odor. The Jewish church had some genuine theological issues to deal with.  But I suspect with some supremacy was a motivating factor.  This is especially true when it comes to sinners against God’s sexual laws today.  Any hint of supremacy must be humbly crucified.

Better in telling the gospel that we purge ourselves of pride
and speak with the attitude that  “The gospel is just one sinner
telling another where he can find bread.”

Image result for photos of beggars finding bread

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Level Ground at the Cross

O Preacher(Please play video at end.)  The existence of an organization like “Black Lives Matter” (http://blacklivesmatter.com/is only one indicator of America’s racial divide.  How can we ever bridge it?  If we think about it, we realize racial schism stems from a deeper divide–the one between us and God.  Today’s text, the fourth sermon in “The Acts Eight”, speaks to both.

Accompanied by fellow-believers from Joppa, along with Cornelius’ three
messengers, Peter has arrived at Caesarea.   The Roman centurion has invited
family and friends to hear what Peter has to say.  We should note that God
called this meeting.  Remember how he gave visions to Cornelius (Acts 10:3-6)
and Peter (Acts 10:10-16)?   (See theoldpreacher.com/visions?/He has orchestrated this unusual encounter.

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (10:34,35).

Peter admits he now understands his “zoo” vision.  God doesn’t play favorites.  We shouldn’t skim over Peter’s admission.  It’s as mind-blowing as a religious white supremacist realizing God accepts the loudest Black Lives Matter protester!  For long rabbis had taught what the Old Testament didn’t–that Gentiles (all non-Jews) were “unclean”.   On this day God is righting racism by the gospel of peace through Jesus Christ . . .

You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.  You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached . . . (10:36,37).

Peter knows Cornelius knows about current events, but he’ll review them anyway.

God sent a message to Israel . . .  The message is the good news of peace.  Peace here isn’t a serene feeling, but the state of reconciliation with God . . . God told this message of peace through Jesus Christ (that is, Jesus Messiah, God’s Anointed One, long-promised by the prophets) . . . Jesus Christ is Lord (Master, Ruler, Sovereign) of all.  He’s not a parochial deity:  he is Lord of all.  His gospel of peace is for Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Having summarized Jesus’ identity and message, Peter now turns to Jesus’ actions . . .

–how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.  “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree,  but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.  He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen– by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead (10:38-41).

Jesus clearly possessed power–power to do good and to heal people dominated by the devil.  The source of that power was God the Holy Spirit.  “We (the apostles)”, says Peter, “saw it all.”  Peter isn’t telling a passed-around story; he’s testifying to what he saw with his own eyes.  That included Jesus’ death at the hand of the Jews.  And–this is the heart of apostolic preaching–“God raised him from the dead . . . ”  God had previously chosen witnesses–those who ate and drank with him alive after the grave–so they could verify Jesus-in-the-flesh was back from the grave.

He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (10:36-43).

Peter sees himself (as do the other apostles) as a man under command:  To testify to a double-sided truth.  One, Jesus is the God-appointed judge of the living and the dead.  Everyone must stand in his courtroom and answer to him.  Every human who has  ever lived must give an account of himself/herself to the Risen Lord of All.

Two, (and here Peter points back to what the prophets told about Messiah):  “everyone who believes in [the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen] receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  This is the gospel of peace, the gospel of reconciliation with God.

The Holy Spirit Falls.

Peter gets no chance to lead his hearers in “the sinner’s prayer”.  Instead, God the Holy Spirit interrupts.  Why this extraordinary intervention?  Because these are Gentiles.  People counted “unclean” by the rabbis.  Romans who stand outside the promises of God.  But on this day in this house, a frontier has been crossed.  A Jew has preached the gospel of God’s peace through Jesus Christ to non-Jews.  And God wants to show his approval.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.  For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said,  “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”  So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days (10:44-48).

* * *

The ground is level at the foot of the cross.  No one—regardless of race, gender or politics—is barred from coming to God through Jesus Christ’s gospel of peace.  And at the cross, everyone is the same.  Race is secondary.  Gender is secondary.  Politics are secondary.  Jesus Christ is all in all.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Visions?

P.AllanHe was wide awake.  Yet it was dream-like.  But real.  Three o’clock in the afternoon Cornelius saw an angel.  Terror gripped him, but he couldn’t look away.  He heard himself stammering:  “What is it, Lord?”

The angel announced:  “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have not gone unnoticed by God!  Now send some men down to Joppa to find a man named Simon Peter.  He is staying with Simon, a leather worker who lives near the shore.  Ask him to come and visit you.”

Then the angel was gone. Cornelius was alone again.  He was more used to giving orders than taking them.  He commanded 100 Roman soldiers.  His unit was part of the Italian Regiment (the Cohores II Miliaria Italica Civium Romanorum).  Centurions like him were the backbone of the Roman army,  natural leaders, men who would hold their ground when being beaten and hard pressed, ready, if necessary, to die at their posts.

He was also a Gentile worshiper of the God of the Jewish Scriptures.  He kept their ethical code, attended synagogue,  and observed the Sabbath.  However, he wouldn’t become a Jewish proselyte.  Therefore, Jews counted him a ritually unclean Gentile.

Despite the strangeness of the angel-experience, Cornelius chose to believe and obey.  Calling two personally-close household servants and a faithful soldier, he confided everything that had happened and sent them  on the thirty mile trip to Joppa.  He wondered what might come of it.

* * * * *

After the raising of Tabitha from the dead, Peter remained in Joppa at Simon the leather maker’s home.  The day after Cornelius’ vision, his servants neared the city.  Meanwhile, at Simon’s house,  Peter tramped up the outside stairway to the flat roof.  The Mediterranean breezes and awning would help cool him during noon prayers.

As he prayed he could hear a meal being prepared downstairs.  The aroma wafted on the breeze and his stomach growled.   A movement in the heavens caught his eye.  He was awake.  It was real.  But like  a dream.  The heavens opened and a great sheet, like a ship’s sail, was being let down by its corners.  He could see inside it now—animals and reptiles and birds of all kinds.  A voice came to him:  “Peter, get up, kill and eat!”

He refused.  He’d never eaten anything the Jewish food laws called common or unclean.  But the voice spoke again, more insistent:  “What God has made clean, don’t call common!”  Three times the scene repeated.  Then slowly the sheet-sail ascended to heaven.

Peter rubbed his eyes.  What did it mean?  He was perplexed.  At that moment Cornelius’ messengers stood at the front gate calling for a Peter who might be staying at the house.  On the roof, the Spirit spoke:  “Peter, three men are looking for you.  Get up and go down and go with them right away.  I have sent them.”

Peter lumbered down the outside stairway.  “I am Peter.  Why have you come?”  The messengers explained,  “We were sent by Cornelius, a Roman officer. He is a devout man who fears the God of Israel and is well respected by all the Jews. A holy angel instructed him to send for you so you can go to his house and give him a message.”   Peter invited them in to be his guests.

* * * * *

The next morning they all set out for Cornelius’ home in  Caesarea, accompanied by some of the believers from Joppa.  When they arrived the following day, they found Cornelius had invited relatives and close friends.  Peter entered the house and Cornelius bowed down to worship him.  But Peter rebuked him saying, “I am just a man.”

Peter knew he was on unlawful Gentile ground.  “But God has shown me, he said, that I should not call any person common or unclean.  That’s why I came.  Now tell me, why did you send for me?”

Cornelius explained his angel-appearance.  “So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now here we are, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”  (all the above from Acts 10:1-33)

* * * * *

Happenings like this provoke unbelievers to deny the Bible.  Visions?  Of an angel to Cornelius?  Of an animal smorgasbord to Peter?  Surely if God wanted two men to meet, he could have found a more normal means!  Maybe so.  But my point here is to comment on visions.

Why dismiss them as weird?  Since God can create out of nothing, open the Red Sea, speak to humans, and so on, why is it weird for his angels to take God’s message to men?  Admittedly, a sail holding a zoo is a little “out there”, but it obviously got Peter’s attention.

If we begrudgingly believe visions might have been real then, what about today

In his book, “Killing Christians”,  Tom Doyle tells eight thrilling stories of Muslims becoming Christians and the sufferings they endured.  One tells of a woman on foot with her two children fleeing war in Syria.  At one point along the way they are befriended in Amman, Jordan by a Muslim Christian woman who gives them an apartment to temporarily shelter in.  It had been a dangerous, frightening journey.

One morning Dori’s daughter Hania says, “Mother, I had a dream that lasted almost all night.  A man in a white robe told me that we are safe now, and He would take care of us.  He said His name was Jesus.”

Dori asks if the man in the dream said anything else.  “It was something very strange.
He told me that He loves me.  And, Mother, somehow I know that He does!  I could see it
in His eyes.  And it wasn’t just a dream.”

A shiver goes up Dori’s back.  “Sweetheart, I had the same dream!”

Being Muslims, the family believed that Jesus the prophet had appeared to them.
Through the witness of another Muslim-turned-Christian, the family gradually
came to believe who Jesus really is and gave their lives to him.

Events like these don’t appear in the news, so most of us are completely unaware of what God is doing “beneath the radar”.  Consequently, unbelievers dismiss as crazy talk of God intervening by dreams and visions into the world’s darkest, most violent places.  If God’s to be anywhere, let’s keep him  inside the church building!  But God isn’t subject to our small-minded, unbelieving attempts to box him in and shut him up.  In fact, these are the very days we are to expect such wonders . . .

“And in the last days,” God declares,
I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pout out my Spirit and they shall prophecy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass
that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord
shall be saved.”
(Acts 2:17-21)

Be encouraged, Christian!  God is at work in the world—
in ways that are beneath-the-radar extraordinary!

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I Surrender

P.AllanI remember growing up in church often singing this hymn.  Because of the words, simple though they are, it was always a sacred few moments.

Many of our songs rightly give praise to our Lord.  Many of our songs joyfully celebrate who he is and what he’s done.  Many of our hymns properly proclaim sound doctrine, truth to stand on and live by.  Few of our songs plumb the depths of our soul as this one does.  The plain-word line is almost daring to sing:  “I surrender all . . . “

Here’s what I suggest.  Turn off your phone.  Take a moment to be still before the Lord.  Click on the song.  Close your eyes and ignore the words on the screen.  Imagine yourself before Jesus.  Either sing along or, better, listen and let the words flow through you to Him.

Jesus, come meet with us.
Keep us in these moments from asking You to give to us.
Give us grace to give ourselves to You.
May these next moments be holy in Your presence
as we offer to You the little we are.
Make our lives a sanctified living sacrifice to You.
Amen.

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“Their God is My God”

O PreacherA year ago yesterday 21 Coptic* Christians were executed by Islamic State terrorists in Libya, North Africa. Apparently these men were murdered because ISIS considered them “infidels”—that is, simply because they were believers in Jesus Christ.  Christians in Libya.

copt4

Similar violence occurs daily for Christians in places like Libya, Iraq and Syria.

Reading about this, I discovered a remarkable, inspirational fact in an Opinion column in “The Wall Street Journal” of February 12th.  The column was written by Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, the chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago.

“The 21 men executed that day were itinerant tradesman working on  a construction job.  All were native Egyptians but one, a young African man whose identity is uncertain—reports of his name vary, and was described as coming from Chad or Ghana.  But the power of his example is unshakable.  The executioners demanded that each hostage identify his religious allegiance.  Given the opportunity to deny their faith, under threat of death, the Egyptians declared their faith in Jesus.  Steadfast in their belief even in the face of evil, each was beheaded.

“Their compatriot was not a Christian when captured, apparently, but when challenged by the terrorists to declare his faith, he reportedly replied:  ‘Their God is my God.’  In that moment before his death, he became a Christian.  The ISIS murderers seek to demoralize Christians with acts like the slaughter on the Libyan beach.  Instead they stir our wonder at the courage and devotion inspired by God’s love.”

The nameless victim’s courage almost takes my breath away.  And it raises questions.  How did this African unbeliever happen to be captured by ISIS?  Did he work with some of the Egyptian Christians?  Had he seen something of Jesus in them that attracted him to the faith?  Why didn’t he try to save himself by arguing that he didn’t belong to the group, maybe even that he was Muslim?  What moved him to defiantly, devotedly, daringly declare, “Their God is my God”?

Whatever the answers, whatever the details of the deadly drama that day, the sovereign grace of our loving God was poured out into his heart.

I’m reminded of Ruth.  Her husband and her father-in-law had died in Moab.  Naomi was mournfully returning to Israel.  Ruth said to her . . .

“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you,
For where you go I will go . . .
Your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.”
(Ruth 1:16).

Though grievous, Ruth’s circumstances were not life-and-death.  How much more fearlessness did it take for this African to make such a confession!

I’m also reminded of the thief on the cross next to Jesus.  One thief mocked Jesus.  The other said . . .

” . . . we are receiving the reward of our deeds;
but this man has done nothing wrong.”
(Luke 23:41).

Then he turned toward the man on the middle cross . . .

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
(Luke 23:42).

And Jesus replied . . .

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
(Luke 23:43).

One year ago yesterday that brave African man left Libya’s blood-soaked beach and was instantly with Jesus in Paradise.

* * * * *

I find myself wondering what I would have said.  Suppose I was an Egyptian Coptic Christian.  Would I have denied my Lord to save my life?  Or would I have been devoted to the point of death?  But suppose I was that African.  To ISIS I would have been  an “infidel” only by association.  Would I have denied their God?  Or would I have had the courageous conviction to proclaim his words, “Their God is my God”?

Such a horror seems other world.  We should remember:  people in the U.S. have already died at the hand of a terrorist because they proclaimed allegiance to Jesus.  These “fiery trials” aren’t limited to the Middle East.  They are here.  Rarely, thank God.  But they are here.  And only if our head’s in the sand will we presume more of them won’t be coming.

As I write this, a brother or sister of mine in Christ is being persecuted somewhere in the world, maybe threatened with death.  In fact, Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos titled his “Wall Street Journal” article . . .

ISIS Is Guilty of Anti-Christian Genocide.

He complained that the U.S. and the UN have barely even mentioned it, let alone tried to do anything about it.  Our fellow-believers in Jesus are being systematically exterminated.  (Yes, it’s that big.)  Their only “crime”?   Faith in Jesus.

God won’t let us forget . . .

“Remember those who are in prison,
as though in prison with them,
and [remember] those who are mistreated,
since you also are in the body.”
(Hebrews 13:3).

Jesus, You were rejected, beaten and crucified for us.
Now some of us who are Yours are being treated as You were.
Protect the persecuted from the evil one.
Give them grace and faith and courage to stand strong in the evil day.
Thank You for these 21 Coptic Christians who refused to deny You.
Thank You for this one African man who proclaimed allegiance to You,
knowing in the very next second it would cost him his life.
May their examples inspire us.
May they move us from indifference to life-sacrificing devotion.
May Your church in America be given grace to wake from apathy
and to put on the full armor of God for the fight.
For the sake of Your sovereign name, I pray.
Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is the largest Christian Church in Egypt, and also the largest in the Middle East overall.  According to tradition, the Church  was established by Saint Mark, an apostle and evangelist, in the middle of the 1st century (approximately AD 42).  (Eusebius of Caesarea, the author of Ecclesiastical History in the 4th century, states that Saint Mark came to Egypt in the first or third year of the reign of Emperor Claudius, i.e. 41 or 43 A.D. “Two Thousand years of Coptic Christianity” Otto F. A. Meinardus p28.)

 

 

 

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Is Jesus Back?

O PreacherSeemed like Jesus was back in Judea, even though at least five years had passed since his death.

Jesus heals the Paralytic Aeneas (Acts 9:32-35).

As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda.    There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years.  “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you.   Get                   
up and take care of your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up.  All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord  (Acts 9:32-35).

We last saw Peter preaching  the Gospel in Samaria (9:25).  He’s now traveled south to a town called Lydda in Judea.  The “saints” he visits are believers in Jesus having been converted either at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41) or from Philip’s preaching in that area (Acts 8:40).

The miracle here is quite similar to author Luke’s account of Jesus healing a paralytic in Capernaum.  The paralytic’s  friends had lowered him through the roof into a crowded house.  When Jesus told him his sins were forgiven, the Pharisees silently condemned him for blaspheming.  To prove he had authority to forgive sins, Jesus said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”  When he did, “Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God.  They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today'” (Luke 5:18-26).

Here are similarities.  Both the paralytic in Luke 5 and Aeneas in Acts 9 suffered the same ailment.  Both immediately got up when spoken to.  Both had a mat to pick up.  In Luke 5 the people were “amazed and gave praise to God.”  In Acts 9 they “turned to the Lord.”  And in both cases Jesus did the healing.  In Luke 5, Jesus did it in person.  In Acts 9 Jesus did it through Peter.  Peter said to Aeneas, “Jesus Christ heals you.”  Anyone who had known of Jesus’ healing the paralytic in Capernaum would have been reminded of that at Aeneas’ healing in Lydda.  Seemed like Jesus was back in Judea.

Jesus Raises the Dead Woman Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43).

 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room.  Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”  Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.  Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.  He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive.  This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.  Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon (Acts 9:36-43).

Joppa lay about 11 miles northwest of Lydda.  Close enough to be considered near, yet far enough in time for Tabitha to have truly died.  We don’t know what the disciples (a term author Luke typically uses of believers in Jesus) expected Peter to do; but Peter immediately knew what he would do.  This is the only account of an apostle raising someone from the dead.

This miracle is much like Mark’s account of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead . . .

When they (Jesus, Peter, James and John) came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly.  He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”  But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was.  He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).  Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.  He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat (Mark 5:38-43)..

Note the similarities.  In both cases people were crying and wailing at the death.  In both cases the crowd was removed from the dead person’s room.  In both cases the dead person was directly addressed with virtually the same words:  “Tabitha, get up” (Acts 9:40) and “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” (Mark 5:41).  In both cases the dead person got up.  Not surprisingly, reactions were similar.  In the case of Jairus’ daughter, “they were completely astonished” (Mark 5:42).  And in Tabitha’s case, “This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:43).  Anyone present at both miracles might very well have thought Jesus was back in Judea.

Jesus Still Doing (Acts 1:1).

I’ve noted this before, but it bears repeating.  Author Luke opened Acts with these words:  “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach . . . ”

” . . . all that Jesus began to do and to teach . . . ”  Luke declares that his Gospel writing was the record of what Jesus began to do and teach.  And by those words Luke implies that his Acts’ writing is the record of what Jesus continued to do and teach.  This is Trinitarian theology.  The Spirit of the Risen Christ—God the Holy Spirit—was continuing in Acts what Christ had begun in the Gospel.

That leads to this question:  Is Jesus still doing today? 

In his book Miracles, Eric Metaxas tells story after story of miracles today.  One short one is about his own grandmother . . .

I remember my own grandmother telling me how she had prayed for her own leg, which was hurting, and “felt a sizzling” and was instantly healed.  This was in the 1970s.  My mother was at work and my grandmother was taking care of my brother and me over summer vacation.  She told me that she spoke to God, saying, “I can’t take care of these children today unless you heal me,” and as she was talking to God . . . she felt a warmth in her leg and it was healed, just like that.

I’ve also come across a lengthy “Christianity Today” article from 2012.  There’s probably at least one thing in this that many people will question or outright dismiss as being “too charismatic.”  But, since “Christianity Today” is a middle-of-the-theological-read magazine and since the couple involved seem genuinely sacrificial givers for Christ’s sake, I came away believing the miracles are real.  You can read it here . . .

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/may/miracles-in-mozambique.html\
Miracles in Mozambique: How Mama Heidi Reaches the AbandonedIs Jesus “back”?
If so, we have reason to hope for signs and wonders
that will glorify him and fill us with great joy!

 

 

 

 

 

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He Is In the Song

P.AllanWait!  Before you listen to the video, please listen to this.   I’m taking a musical interlude from Acts, because my soul is dry.

As you may know, almost two years ago now illness drove me to retire from pastoring.  With our worship team, I had  often led the church to sing in the presence of the Lord.  Those are carefully chosen words.  I viewed the music part of our worship as entering into the Lord’s presence with singing.

“Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise”
(Psalm 95:2).

God the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the risen Son, was actually among us as we sang.  And many times we felt him there.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name,
there am I among them”
(Jesus, Matthew 18:20).

We tried never to sing as if we were having a spiritual sing-along.   Nor as if we were only making a doctrinal proclamation together.  We always knew, of course, that our Lord was in heaven; but we believed that by the Spirit he was also in the sanctuary of our gathering.  So we sang songs of worship and praise about him and to him, but always with the sense that we were coming before him.

Often, after our last song, a “holy hush” settled over us, and we became still, awed by his presence.  We waited.  Sometimes one or more of us would spontaneously pray.  Other times we simply remained silent “on holy ground.”  How often I felt like the disciples with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration!  It was good; I wanted to stay!

My illness has mostly kept me from corporate worship the last several months.  I miss it.  Not just Christians singing together, but singing together entering into the Lord’s presence, aware of his nearness, awed by his closeness.  Without it, my soul has been shriveling.  I hasten to add that God is in the preached Word, of course.  Nothing can replace that.  But he is also in the song.

I love most hymns for their theological richness.  This old guy can even get into many contemporary Christian songs.  (I just can’t bounce up and down!)  But with both, I need those simple worship choruses that free me from many words to focus more on Jesus.  I miss that.  My soul needs that.

So late yesterday I came across the video above, a beautiful hymn we used to sing in corporate worship.  I didn’t sing along with it yesterday.  Just sat with tears streaming down my face.  And was caught up in the holy, refreshing, beautiful, encouraging presence of the Lord.  He was in the song.  I invite you to find him there too.

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