NEVER LOVE THIS
In the context of being a follower of Jesus and His work, there are many things we should never love because they are a detriment to being faithful. Here are a few:
“O you who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10).
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10).
That last quote from Paul’s letter to his disciple Timothy is the one I want us to pay close attention to. Many who comment on this verse point to “the love of money” as something that is not a problem for them. If we carefully examine the motives of our hearts, we will discover that often we (I) are not pure in our motives.
Contentment is a quality that is learned (Philippians 4:11-12). These two issues work together and are an indicator of how close our walk with the Lord is. Either contentment will increase and the desire for money decrease, or it will work just the opposite.
MOTIVES BEHIND REQUESTS
As I am reading again through the Book of Acts, the Spirit has opened my eyes to examine some of the events to see and learn insights that are very important for our day. Today was Acts 8:9-25.
As Philip is preaching the good news in Samaria, Simon the magician “believed, and after being baptized, he continued with Philip.” The reception of the Spirit happened a bit differently in Samaria than in Jerusalem. “Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” This intrigued Simon and he “offered [the apostles] money, saying, “Give me this power also.”
Whether Simon did this out of ignorance or not, the account does not say. What is very clear is that such a request is a serious offense against God as the giver of this gift – the Holy Spirit. This request would reduce the gift down to a human act and take away the amazing grace that gave the gift. Peter’s verdict was right; “May your silver perish [to ruin or destroy] with you because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” (8:20).
We must be extremely careful not to allow money in any form to be part of our work for the Lord. The payment of money for any spiritual ability gives the buyer a sense of ownership which is wrong. Any spiritual gift comes from the Lord, not men (Ephesians 4:11). To receive money for any work done for the Lord as if we deserve it is also wrong and detracts from the Giver of “every good gift and every perfect gift” (James 1:17) which allows us to do His work.
A FRESH LOOK AT ZAMBIA, AFRICA
My heart is rejoicing because of what God is doing in the landlocked country of Zambia, Africa. It was almost ten years ago that I went there to further train leaders in Lusaka. Some had come from towns north of Lusaka and were hungry for God’s Word. As you will see below, God is still working.“We went with my team to a new church where we invited other leaders from old churches to come and join us. It was not easy to reach Luanshya because of rains and bad road conditions. Some bridges were swept away, and we spent time cutting trees to make bridges for the car to cross over. We saw God's hand on us and his grace was sufficient.
We ministered for two days and was very happy with the response. We had the meetings even during the night, sleeping very late and on the hard floor. Everything went well as planned, food, transport and simple lodging was provided. Men and women got the teaching they expected. We planned to be visiting each church to do the trainings for the leaders.
Patson has good knowledge of the first trainings that were given by Tim and Sherman. We went through with him the manual God's Plan for His Church, and he was so excited for the way the manual is laid out. He invited other friends the next day from other churches who also were amazed about the lessons in the manual and wanted to learn more.
I discussed with Patson to invite more leaders for our next meeting. There are more churches in Luanshya, and l felt that my hometown should receive this life changing training which also will bring revival in churches where English is used for preaching.” (From Henry in Zambia).
Thank the Lord for continuing to expand His work in this African nation.
BEING SERIOUS ABOUT REPENTANCE
There is a small percentage of people who really want to understand the path of repentance that Jesus calls for in Revelation 2 and 3. How do we repent with genuine conviction so we do not return to our old ways but receive God’s freedom through forgiveness? Let me offer a little help.
§ Search God’s Word to better understand what our specific sin is and why it is sin.
§ See in Scripture how that sin and all sin is assessed by God; how it dishonors Him.
§ Realize the extreme cost it was for God to secure our forgiveness and freedom from sin.
Jesus helps us understand the repentance process in Revelation 3:19; “be zealous and repent.” The idea behind “zealous” is that we are ‘sincere, earnest and deeply committed’ to arriving at God’s standard of righteousness and holiness. It is never man’s standard or how sin has been resolved in the past by the Church or by tradition.
Repentance also involves setting our hearts on listening to the Holy Spirit and what He is saying to us about our condition as well as the church in general. As He brings conviction to our heart, mind and conscience, we become determined with His help, to change from what we were to what God wants, irrespective of what it might cost! This is where so many fall short. They become convicted but continue doing what they have always done because they are not willing to change. If we are willing to let God humble us, HE will give us true repentance; true change.
THE ROOT OF REACTIONS
Yesterday we looked at Stephen’s character and why he was so bold even though he was “seized… and brought…before the council…and [facing] false witnesses” against him (Acts 6:12-13). Why was there such a violent reaction to God’s servant?
“The high priest said, “Are these things so?”” (7:1). From that question, Stephen gives a wonderful recap of God’s ways with Israel beginning with Abraham, but not without exposing the sin and unbelief of the nation (7:40ff). Idolatry and tradition caused God to “turn away and give them over to worship the host of heaven” and to become a “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you” (7:42, 51).
Before we too quickly condemn these people who stoned Stephen, it would be appropriate for us to examine our own hearts and the condition of the Church today. To what extent have we left the original principles on which God built the Church and created forms and traditions that have become more important and valuable to us than the truth in God’s Word?
If Stephen or Paul were to walk into any one of our churches today and faithfully expose our current state, what would we do? Jesus was as bold as Stephen with the Churches in Revelation 2 and 3. Is our lack of power and effectiveness due to forms and traditions that have shut out the Spirit of truth? There is only one way to correct this problem. “Repent and do the works you did at first” (2:5).
NO ONE CAN STOP THIS!
“And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue…rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:8–10).
The description of this opposition makes me realize that they felt powerless by one man. They had to gather all their forces of evil in order to satisfy their hatred for truth and refute what this godly man represented. Stephen is unflappable. How can one man endure such an organized assault against his faith and character. It was both his faith and character that were built on Christ and he was “full of grace and power…wisdom and the Spirit.”
Nothing of Stephen’s ability was based on human accomplishments but on what God had done through the Spirit in Him. All of what Stephen had is available to us if we will come under the Spirit’s authority and control. It is that simple.
When Jesus was challenging His disciples with acknowledging Him before men, He said, “for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12). Do you really believe that? So often I feel myself getting very nervous, tongue tied and afraid instead of simply asking the Spirit to give thoughts and words that are full of grace and power!
Relying on the Holy Spirit is the only way to be an effective witness. That is what Jesus promised in Acts 1:8. There was no school, college or seminary that taught this. It was and is God Himself!
MAKING THE POINT CLEAR
I spent a few minutes today looking through my Bible thinking and praying about a conversation I had this morning with man a who shares my passion for reaching the unreached with the gospel. As my fingers turned the pages, my eyes landed on pages in Ezekiel. One of the last times I read this prophet I noted in the margin 67 times where God says, “they shall know that I am the Lord” or “the nations will know that I am the Lord.”
What a promise! Remember God’s promise in Habakkuk 2:14? “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Combine these promises with Jesus’ promise; “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”” (Acts 1:8).
As these verses capture my heart, I cannot imagine for a moment not being part of God’s plan and purpose in fulfilling these promises. Giving ourselves to this must be a very high and first priority.
When the disciples asked Jesus about the end of this age, He sets the priority in Mark 13:10; “the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations [ethnos, or people groups].” This is often presented in the Church as an obligation or command as in Matthew 28:19, and it is, but I want to present this to you as a high privilege. To think that we can be part of fulfilling God’s promise is an honor!
THE COST IS RADICAL
There are so many examples for us in Scripture of persons who were determined to follow God’s leading and direction. They were surrounded by others who chose not to follow the Lord, but that did not change their commitment. God honored their leadership, stood by them, and gave them rewards for being faithful.
One of these men was Joshua who took over leadership from Moses. The challenges he faced were not just a few people that opposed him, but a whole nation. As he came to the closing days of his life, Joshua put a choice before the people:
““Now therefore fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”” (Joshua 24:14–15).
With Joshua, there was no room for half-hearted commitment. Look at how the people responded to his challenge! “But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good”” (24:19–20).
As soon as Joshua died, the people went back to idolatry. Is your commitment only as good as your leader, or have you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, willing to pay the cost of following Him whatever that might be?
William Whiting Borden was born into the prominent and wealthy Chicago family connected to silver mining in Colorado. His mother took William to the Chicago Avenue Church which later became Moody Church where young Borden was converted under the preaching of R. A. Torrey. From that point on, William gave himself to prayer and study of the Bible.
Charles R. Erdman, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary commented about this young man; “No other student exerted a greater influence over him than Borden. His judgment was so unerring and so mature that I always forgot there was such a difference in our ages. His complete consecration and devotion to Christ were a revelation to me and his confidence in prayer a continual inspiration”(1)
William’s intent was to evangelize the Uyghur Muslims in northwestern China but decided to study Arabic in Cairo in 1912. In March of 1913, he contracted cerebral meningitis and died a few weeks later. On his gravestone is inscribed the words:
“Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation of such a life.”
His mother found in his Bible these words:
“NO RESERVE, NO RETREAT, NO REGRETS”
I have written these words in my Bible and want them to be true of me. What would be the epitaph of your life?
How do you see your ministry today? As Tim and I sat in my office this morning reviewing so many aspects of what God is doing, we are amazed! COVID-19, vaccine requirements, unexpected travel restrictions, and plans that must be changed because regulations in the US and destination countries are constantly in flux. Is Satan winning against the plan of God?
Paul didn’t think so! He was put in prison because of severe opposition from Jewish leaders. Paul did not waste time sitting in his cell complaining about the conditions or food, or not being able to travel to strengthen new churches or plant new ones. Neither did Paul consider his limitations a detriment to the spread of the gospel. Read how Paul describes his outlook:
“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). Paul is speaking to you and me!
Instead of looking at our limitations, let’s find the next “God opportunity!” It might be the person next door, at your place of work, or a note written to someone who needs encouragement through the gospel. Whatever it is, throw yourself into the Lord’s work with all HIS energy and power. It will “served to advance the gospel!”
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