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December 19, 2018, 8:29 AM

Strange Ideas

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears” (Acts 17:20).

Athens was a hard place to preach, the very center of culture in the first century. “Knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1), and these philosophers were tempted to dismiss Paul as a “babbler” (Acts 17:18). Since they were intrigued by “the latest ideas” (v. 21), however, they decided to give Paul a hearing. And they heard something their proud wisdom could never have devised, something so different that they said, “You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears.” Let’s take a closer look at these strange ideas in today’s passage, Acts 17:16-34.

1. To those who make gods, it is a strange idea that God has made us. To Paul’s distress, “the city was full of idols” (v. 16). The people were “very religious,” and one empty pedestal bore the inscription, “To an Unknown God” (vv. 22-23). The God they didn’t know was the God whom Paul preached, and the first relationship in which that one true God stands to mankind is Maker. Paul proclaimed the Creator. God “made the world and everything in it” (v. 24). This almighty Creator cannot be confined to temples or served by hands. Yet He wants us to “seek him . . . and find him” (v. 27), to live in fellowship with Him. Idolatry is not restricted to ancient times or distant peoples. Right here in America the popular gods are made in Silicon Valley or produced in Hollywood. We need to hear anew this “strange idea” – that God made us, and made us for Himself.

2. To those who take sin lightly, it is a strange idea that God takes sin seriously. “In the past,” Paul declares, “God overlooked” the “ignorance” of idolatry – not in the sense of approving or excusing it, but in the sense of delaying His judgment upon it; “But now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (v. 30). “All people everywhere” includes this generation! It’s time to put away false gods and turn to the Almighty. It’s time to repent, and repentance means to quit sinning and instead follow Christ. A day of judgment has already been “set,” and the Judge has been “appointed” (v. 31). At that time, we will all “receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). All of this sounds as strange to modern America as it did to ancient Athens. But we’d better believe it! We can either repent or perish (Luke 13:5).

3. To those who view death as final, it is a strange idea that God raises the dead. Paul proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus as “proof’ of God’s intention to “judge the world with justice.” “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered” (vv. 31-32). Yet, sneering doesn’t change the fact. As strange as it may seem, we will all be raised from the dead. Beyond the resurrection lies two options: eternal life or eternal condemnation (John 5:28-29). Praise God, not all “sneered.” A few “believed,” and the risen Jesus became their Savior from sin. Others procrastinated, saying, “We want to hear you again on this subject” (v. 32). To them, true or not, it just wasn’t important enough to nail down a decision. Other interests beckoned. And, likewise, you today will do one of three things: You will say, “No,” like those who sneered. Or, “Yes,” like those who believed. Or, “Later,” like those who procrastinated. Only “Yes” brings salvation!

Does it seem strange that you’re not an accident, but the creation of God? Does it seem strange that God hates sin and calls you to repentance? Does it seem strange that God will raise you from the dead and bring you into judgment? Strange or not, it’s all true. Therefore, it’s time you know the true God through Jesus.

Let’s pray: O God, we humbly and heartily thank you for redeeming us by the death of your blessed Son and for the assistance of your Holy Spirit. May we truly repent of all sin and find new life in Christ today. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

December 12, 2018, 8:56 AM

Noble in Character

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians” (Acts 17:11).

Nobility has been a title given (or demanded) more often than a truth. People have belonged to the nobility because of the accident of birth, or the accumulation of wealth, or the cunning of politics, who were anything but noble in character. As God Word views it, what makes a people noble in character? What was so different about these Bereans? Let’s examine Acts 17:10-14 a bit closer.

1. They were open-minded. We read that “they received the message with great eagerness” (v. 11). The message was the same one Paul delivered to the Thessalonians. Reduced to essence: “Jesus … is the Christ.” And this is demonstrated from Scripture fulfilled in His crucifixion and resurrection (vv. 2-3). The cross was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23). Often its first mention evoked scorn and aroused hostility. But these Bereans refused to allow popular prejudice to stop their ears. They were willing to hear the message and judge its claims in an atmosphere of open-mindedness. Every audience ought to listen in this spirit. The gospel does not ask for special favors, only for a fair hearing. Are you listening with an open mind? Or with crossed arms?

2. They were Bible-governed. These Bereans “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (v. 11). Open-minded does not mean gullible. These people had the Bible. If what was preached could not be supported by the Bible, they were ready to reject it, and rightly so. Their minds were free from prejudice but bound to God’s Word. Everyone operates with some framework of accepted authority. With most people it is the opinion and reaction of certain leading figures. They play “follow the leader” blindfolded. The Pharisees could dismiss Jesus by saying, “Has any of the rulers or the Pharisees put his trust in him? (John 7:48). If the nation’s VIPs rejected Jesus, that proved Him false as far as they were concerned. The person who is open-minded and Bible-governed does not ask, What does the elite of our day say? Their question is, What does the Bible say?

3. They were God-believing. “Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men” (v. 12). They were convinced that “Paul was preaching the word of God” (v. 13), not airing his own opinions. God himself was addressing them through the message of the gospel. God was identifying Jesus as the Messiah, calling them to repentance, offering them pardon for sins. A divine-human encounter was taking place in that synagogue; they sensed it and believed God. Jews and Greeks, men and women, prominent and ordinary believed. God is the Creator and Redeemer of all people. To believe God is to believe also in our common humanity, and be willing to comprise a fellowship which ignores the arbitrary and sinful barriers erected by society.

In closing, it’s one thing to read about such a congregation. It’s another and harder thing to be such a church! What is your character? Are you open-minded? Or has someone already done your thinking? Are you Bible-governed? Or are you controlled by the opinions of others? Are you God-believing? Or do you assent mentally to His Word but deny it practically in your life?

Let’s pray: Gracious Lord, help me to be open-minded, Bible-governed, and God-believing. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

December 5, 2018, 8:20 AM

Filled With Joy

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“The whole family was filled with joy, because they had come to believe in God” (Acts 16:34).

Listen to the charge against Paul and Silas in today’s section of our verse-by-verse study, Acts 16:16-34, “These men … are throwing our city into an uproar” (v. 20). Uproar is common for cities. You can’t get huge numbers of people into a melting pot without the pot boiling over at times. We have seen this reality over and over again in recent days. Furthermore, the gospel is a catalyst; it makes things happen. Either God or the devil will keep a city disturbed. This story moves from rioting to rejoicing: “The whole family was filled with joy.” Leading to this climatic joy were three strange events.

1. A liar told the truth. The demon-possessed fortune-teller followed the missionaries, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved” (v. 17). The devil “is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), and fortune-tellers have nearly the same record. But the devil is also shrewd, and he will tell the same truth when it serves his purpose. What the slave girl said was true. She correctly identified these men and their mission. But Paul was “troubled” by it. When the devil advertises God’s business, gullible people will identify the product with the advertiser. So, Paul “said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’” When you take orders from God, you can give orders to the devil. The incident cautions us. Beware when liars tell the truth. Beware when the devil advertises the Lord’s business.

2. Heaven shook the earth. Paul and Silas were mobbed, beaten, and jailed at the instigation of the angry slave owners who had been injured in their purses. In response, instead of whining, they prayed and sang hymns. “Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken … doors flew open … chains came loose” (v. 26). From one perspective any earthquake is a natural disaster. The timing and effect proved this one to have a supernatural origin. God was shaking the jail to reverse the verdict of lying witnesses and corrupt magistrates. Roman law was harsh. If prisoners escaped, the jailer took their place. The unnerved jailer started to kill himself, and only the shouted protest of Paul prevented that tragedy. In those words, “Don’t harm yourself!” (v. 28) are sounded the triumph of love over hatred, of forgiveness over wrong.

3. A jailer escaped his prison. The jailer “fell trembling before Paul and Silas.” The quaking jail produced a quaking jailer. Under deep conviction he cried, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul’s answer is a Christian classic: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (vv. 29-31). To give content to his faith, “They spoke the word of the Lord to him” and his household. In a beautiful ceremony the jailer took water and bathed the missionaries’ wounds and they took water and baptized him and his family (vv. 32-33). The jailer had been a prisoner, chained by his sins in a dungeon of guilt and fear. Now he was free! And, “The whole family was filled with joy, because they had come to believe in God” (v. 34). This Christmas, you, too, can receive this greatest gift and likewise be filled with joy. You can exchange your sin and guilt for God’s pardon and peace in Jesus. This new life is not won by your efforts. It is given freely in response to faith.

Let’s pray: Father, I believe. I repent of all sin. I receive Your gift. Fill me with all joy! Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

November 28, 2018, 7:34 AM

Grand Openings

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“The Lord opened her heart” (Acts 16:14).

Stores have grand openings. One guy referred to his wife’s surgery as the grand opening! But the grandest of all openings is that which is referred to in today’s passage, Acts 16:6-15. Let’s look at three openings that took place in the text.

1. An open door. God opened the door for Paul and his companions to preach the gospel in Europe. They were summoned by a vision given to Paul during the night – probably the only time he was still long enough for God to reach him with such a message. A “man of Macedonia” begged him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” The response of the missionary party was prompt obedience: “We got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (vv. 9-10). These missionaries had made other plans for themselves. They learned, however, that God closes doors in order to open others. They were “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia”; and when “they tried to enter Bithynia . . . the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (vv. 6-7). God knows what is best. We can trust Him to open and close doors.

2. An open heart. Arriving in Macedonia, Paul did not find at first the man in the vision. But at a riverside prayer meeting he proclaimed Christ “to the women who had gathered there.” One of them was a devout businesswoman named Lydia, and “the Lord opened her heart to respond” in faith to the message. She influenced the members of her household to become Christians, and they were baptized (vv. 13-15). The God who opened the door for preaching opened the heart to preaching! A similar incident is recorded in Luke 24:45. The risen Christ met with His disciples, formed them into a Bible study group, and “opened their minds so they could understand the Scripture.” Open-heart surgery is a modern procedure for saving lives, but God has been doing spiritual surgery from the beginning of the gospel. By nature the heart is closed and hardened because of sin but God opens it by His convicting and faith-creating word. This radical surgery took place at “a place of prayer.” We need to generate an atmosphere in which preaching and witnessing can be done with power, and such an atmosphere is created through prayer. The open heaven will bring about the open heart.

3. An open house. After her conversion to Christ, Lydia invited the missionary party to stay at her house. Luke says, “She persuaded us” (v. 15). Whatever reluctance they had was overcome by the eagerness of this woman to share her home and food with God’s workman. There is a principle illustrated here that is unfailingly true: When God has our hearts, He also gets our possessions. Later Paul will tell of how the Macedonian churches “gave themselves first to the Lord” and then gave generously and sacrificially of their means (2 Cor. 8:1-5). When God has us, He has ours!

The door, the open heart, the open house! The sequence is logical, and all these grand openings blend together divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Only God can perform these gracious openings; but when He does, our responsibility is to trust Him completely and obey Him promptly.

Let’s pray: Wonderful Savior, come, open our hearts, and may we respond with open homes. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

November 14, 2018, 8:00 AM

From One To Many

Church Family: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“So the churches … grew daily in numbers” (Acts 16:5).

Today’s passage, Acts 16:1-5, begins with the word “He” and ends with the word “numbers.” It moves from one to many, describing a widening circle that ought to characterize the life of every church. How does it happen? How do we move from one to many? Three factors in this passage stands out.

1. The power of a mother’s faith. There was a wonderful young Christian at Lystra named Timothy. We can credit that fact to his mother’s stalwart faith. His mother was “a Jewess and a believer,” and his father was “a Greek” but not a believer. Timothy was the product of a divided home, a religiously and culturally divided home. As he grew into manhood, somehow the faith of his mother overcame the pagan influence of his father, and Timothy made his choice to follow Christ. Years later Paul will commend Timothy for his “sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim. 1:5). Faith lived in Timothy because it was first lived before him in the persons of his grandmother and mother. The father remained immune, it would seem, but that faith proved contagious to Timothy. It is not easy to stand for Christ in a divided home. But such a stand is going to create an opportunity for others to find Jesus.

2. The wisdom of an apostle’s choice. We are told in Acts 16:2-3 that Paul recruited Timothy for his missionary labors, after “the brothers… spoke well of him” to the apostle. He began to travel and preach with Paul, sharing the life and work of one of the foremost exponents of Christianity in the first century. What a rare opportunity for a young man! How effectively Timothy served is beautifully attested in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel” (2:20-22). Unselfishly committed to Christ’s cause, Timothy proved to be Paul’s favorite helper, fully vindicating the wisdom of the apostle’s choice.

3. The secret of a church’s growth. Acts 16:5 declares, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.” The word “so” looks back to the causes of this faith and growth. One of the causes is stated – obedience to the apostolic teaching. “As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey” (v. 4). Those decisions were made by the council, whose meeting is recorded in chapter 15. They can be summed up in two statements: We are saved by faith, and we exhibit our faith in love.

The other cause of the church’s growth is implied – it’s witness to the world. Churches can experience biological growth, as children of Christian parents become Christians in turn. Timothy is an example of this. But daily growth is possible only where the gospel is being shared with the outside world, and those who hear it are brought to faith in Jesus. Therefore, how do we move from one to many? By winning our kids to Jesus, the training of gospel workers, and the evangelism of our community.

Let’s pray: O Lord God, may we be faithful evangelists for You and may Your Kingdom grow. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens


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