Pastor's Blog
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September 26, 2018, 7:28 AM

God's GIft

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

“God gave them the same gift as he gave us” (Acts 11:17).

In Acts 11:1-18, Simon Peter was severely criticized for fellowshipping with Gentiles (vv. 2-3). But Peter cared for his critics. He didn’t denounce them; he “explained everything to them precisely as it had happened” (v. 4). While Peter was preaching to the household of Cornelius, “the Holy Spirit came on them” as He had come on the Jewish believers at Pentecost (v. 15). God’s seal of ownership was placed on them, and that settled the matter in Peter’s mind. He ended is explanation with the words we want to underscore today: “So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us [when we] believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God!” This reveals two powerful truths:

1. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to His people. “God gave them” the Holy Spirit. The gifts of God are never trivial; they are linked to His saving purposes; they are designed to meet real needs. (a.) The Holy Spirit is given to purify Christian hearts. Peter will tell his story again, at the church council recorded in Acts 15. There he declared, “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us… for he purified their hearts by faith (15:8-9). God knows the heart, knows its deep pollution, knows how this pollution hinders growth and life, and makes provision in the outpouring of the Spirit to cleanse the heart – freeing it from sin and for service. (b.) The Holy Spirit is given to empower Christian witness. Peter quotes the Lord’s promise, “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (v. 16). When Jesus gave that promise, He went on to say, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:5, 8). And when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, the first recorded effect was the creation of a witnessing community – “they began to speak” and never quit! (Acts 2:4; cf. 5:42). The Holy Spirit gives ordinary people tongues of fire to tell their friends and neighbors about the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is received by faith. “God gave them the same gift as he gave us [when we] believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Holy Spirit does not come upon us in cleansing and enabling power unless and until we believe. Those who receive this power do so in a context of asking and believing. Jesus made it clear that the Heavenly Father gives the Spirit to those who ask (Luke 11:13). Faith means taking God at His word, trusting Him to do what He says He will do. Here the promise is beautifully clear: “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” The Book of Acts makes it clear that “you” includes all races, all sexes, and all ages – “every one” of God’s people. The promise sweeps through the ages and addresses all Christians. And faith is simply our confidence in that promise. Faith is often exercised most readily in a context of fellowship and prayer. This was true of the outpourings of the Spirit referred to in this passage. You, therefore, who need to be filled with the Spirit, who hunger in your hearts for holiness and power, why not come and pray together with those who have claimed and experienced this wonderful gift of God? To resist the Spirit is to “oppose God” (v. 17). To receive the Spirit is to be fitted for the service of God.

Let’s pray: Gracious Father, cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Create within me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

September 19, 2018, 7:37 AM

When The Lord Works...

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

“He began to preach… the Jews conspired to kill him” (Acts 9:20, 23).

Saul’s preaching would become one of the mightiest instruments employed by God for the establishment of Christianity in the world. Reading Acts 9:19-25, where that ministry begins, is like standing at the source of a winding river that will gather force as it moves to merge with the ocean. Such an exciting career could not have begun peacefully. Saul’s ministry was strongly opposed from the beginning. When the Lord works, the devil gets busy. Two things are evident in this passage:

1. The Lord’s work – an astonishing conversion: “All those who heard him were astonished” (v. 21). The Lord Jesus split Saul’s life in two parts, just as He has divided all history. There was Saul, B.C. – Saul the persecutor. No one ever hated Christianity more intensely or assaulted it more violently. He is well described as “the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on his name” (v. 21). The Christians at Damascus knew that Saul had journeyed there “to take them prisoners.” But instead Saul had been taken captive by Jesus! There was also Saul, A.D. – Saul the preacher. Recovered from blindness and filled with the Spirit, “at once he began to preach in the synagogues” (v. 20). He came to persecute and stayed to preach. Saul’s message: “Jesus is the Son of God” (v. 20). Who Jesus is, uniquely God’s Son, and what Jesus does, deliver men from sin – this is the whole burden of Saul’s earliest preaching. It’s the message the world needs most! Saul’s method: “proving.” He reasoned and persuaded, proving from Scripture, the only formal source of authority his hearers would acknowledge, and proving from experience, for only the risen Jesus could have produced such change in Saul. From persecutor to preacher, murderer to missionary, hater to lover, this was Saul’s astonishing conversion. Jesus Christ can effectively transform every sinful life yielded to His Lordship.

2. The devil’s work – a not-so-astonishing conspiracy: “The Jews conspired to kill him” (v. 23. Sadly, this reaction was not so astonishing because (a) they had killed the Master, they would have no qualm killing His servant; (b) human nature, under the domination of sin, seeks to destroy whom it cannot intimidate, as Saul’s own B.C. career so bloodily demonstrated. Christians must expect trouble. When you become a captive of Christ and a witness of grace, the devil will oppose you tooth and nail. Evil can be persistent. “Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him” (v. 24). But when God wills to deliver, a way forward can be found. When the devil closes the gate, God can open a window. Saul was “lowered… in a basket through an opening in the wall” (v. 25). The converted life and initiated ministry would be left free to bear fruit in other places.

Therefore, from this passage two vital lessons emerge. (1) To know Christ is to make Him known! “At once he began to preach.” The instinct of the redeemed is to tell about the Redeemer. (2) To proclaim Christ is to provoke the devil. “The Jews conspired to kill him.” The devil doesn’t want any gospel work going on. He will try to stop it any way possible. He will even use well-meaning religious folks to stop God’s agenda. It boils down to this – we are in a war! Whose side are you on today?

Let’s pray: Speak, Lord, for your servant hears. Grant me ears to hear, eyes to see, a will to obey, a heart to love; then declare what you will, reveal what you will, command what you will. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

September 12, 2018, 8:05 AM

Be Filled With The Spirit!

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

“And be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17).

According to Acts 9:10-22, as dramatic as Saul’s conversion was, it was incomplete. Something else needed to be added. More correctly, Someone else was needed – the Holy Spirit. Why? Because the moment of conversion must be followed by a lifetime of service for the Lord, and the power for Christian living is not the memory of a past experience, however sensational, but a present indwelling of the Holy Spirit. With this in mind, let’s consider some truths about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

1. The Holy Spirit is power for obedience. The Lord said of Saul, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” (v. 15). Years later, on trial before Festus and Agrippa, Paul would affirm, “I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven” (26:19). In the power of the Spirit he fulfilled the plan of God for his life. Obedience is not always easy. In Acts 9:13-14 we see how difficult it was for Ananias to accept the assignment of ministering to Saul. He reasoned that in doing so he might be signing his own death warrant. But if Jesus is Lord, then there can be no refusal of His orders. Therefore, the Lord spoke again to Ananias, “Go!” “Then Ananias went” (vv. 11-17). The Spirit empowers obedience for the toughest assignments.

2. The Holy Spirit is power for suffering. Jesus said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (v. 16). Saul had caused others to suffer for the name of Jesus (vv. 1-2); now he would experience suffering for that name. As we follow his career in the later chapters of Acts, that burden of suffering he carries is impressive. Illness, imprisonment, hunger, cold, stoning, beatings, shipwreck – these, and more, dogged his steps wherever he went as the Lord’s chosen instrument. The Christ who suffered for us cannot be truly represented by disciples unwilling to suffer for His sake. But to suffer triumphantly, to find joy in the midst of the suffering, we need to be filled with the Spirit.

3. The Holy Spirit is power for witnessing. We read of Saul that “at once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God” (v. 20). Those who heard him, and who knew of his former life, were amazed. The persecutor of Christians had become a preacher of Christ. He was but one of many. The Book of Acts is made up of people bearing witness to Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. It was for this purpose, primarily, that the Spirit was given (1:8). It was seldom easy or safe then to bear that witness. In many places where we are sent today, it is still risky and costly. But the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and speaking through us is the power by which that witness becomes effective.

Two things are of special importance when we think about the reception of this power. First, the Holy Spirit was received by Saul in a context of prayer (v. 11). This is true throughout the Book of Acts and fulfills the promise of Jesus (Luke 11:13). Second, the Holy Spirit was received by Saul in contact with another person. Ananias placed hands on Saul (v. 17). In other instances, this was true as well (8:17). All of this suggests that, at the place of prayer, with Spirit-filled people present to pray and counsel, is a wonderful opportunity for those who need this power for Christian living to come, seek, and find!

Let’s pray: O Lord, shed abroad in our hearts your love and fill us with your Holy Spirit. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

September 5, 2018, 9:21 AM

Get Up & Go!

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

“A light… a voice(Acts 9:3-4).

The 8th chapter of Acts is a fascinating account of successful evangelism. In a whole town (8:4-8) and in a single heart (8:24-39) there was rejoicing, as people came to know Jesus as Savior through the witness of His dedicated followers. Then Chapter 9 begins, “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” You can count on it – whenever the Spirit is working, the devil will be busy too, doing everything he can to oppose and hinder the progress of the Kingdom. But Satan is no match for the Savior! In Acts 9:1-9 the conversion of the archenemy of the gospel is recorded. And in this story the elements of conversion are revealed.

1. One element of conversion is a shining “light”. As Saul “neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him” (v. 3). Later, telling the story himself, Paul described the light as brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13). The source of the light is emphasized. It was “from heaven.” God’s light, the glory of the risen Jesus, flashed suddenly upon the darkness of Saul’s heart and life. The strength of the light is also underscored. “He fell to the ground” and “he was blind” (vv. 4, 9). He was blind, not by the absence of light, but by the excess of glory which blazed upon him. While the experience of Saul was never reproduced in exact detail, everyone who is saved has seen a light from heaven. The light of Scripture (Psalm 119:105), and the Light which is Jesus (John 9:5), blinds them to former ways and values and illumines for them the way of God and new life.

2. Another element of conversion is a speaking “voice”. Verse 4 declares, “He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” The voice spoke to him personally: “Saul, Saul.” He was called by name. We are not just parts of a crowd, we are individuals to whom the Lord speaks personally. The voice spoke to him searchingly: “Why do you persecute me?” The Lord speaks to name and condemn our specific wrongdoing. He probes for the reason behind our wickedness. He comes asking “Why?” and compels us to think on our ways. The voice spoke to him authoritatively: “You will be told what you must do” (v. 6). Jesus speaks as Lord. He will not be the Savior of the unsurrendered life. He comes to tell us what we must do to be saved. Again, the experience of Saul was not reproduced exactly in anyone’s life. But all who get saved hear a voice speaking to them. Sometimes God speaks through Scripture, sometimes through preaching, sometimes through the witness of a friend, and always through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit. Our destiny, in this world and the next, hinges upon the response we make to the voice of the Lord.

Like Saul, you are on a journey. Life doesn’t stand still. You are a pilgrim headed for eternity. A light is shining, the light of God’s Word as it bears its witness to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And a voice is speaking to your heart and in your conscience – the voice of the Holy Spirit calling you to repent of your sins and trust in the Savior, calling you to bring your life under the Lordship of Jesus. “Now get up and go” (v. 6)! Go with new life, and with the joy, peace, and hope which that new life brings!

Let’s pray: Dear Lord, grant me absolution and remission for all my sins, true repentance, amendment of life and the grace and consolation of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

August 29, 2018, 8:03 AM

The Kingdom of God

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

“The kingdom of God…” (Acts 8:12).

The “Kingdom of God,” as referred to in Acts 8:9-25, is God’s kingly reign. His sovereignty over human life. It is associated with “good news.” That God reigns, not evil, despotic, and unbelieving individuals, is good news. They exercise but limited power, while ultimate power is God’s. It is associated with “the name of Jesus Christ.” God reigns through Christ, through the One who died for us at Calvary. Which is to say, God rules in love, in liberating, fulfilling, judging love. Let’s look a bit closer at that passage in Acts 8 and see what it reveals to us about “the kingdom of God.”

First, the “kingdom of God” means deliverance for the captives (vv. 9-13). The people of Samaria had been bound by sin and superstition. In their spiritual bondage and blindness, they were easily duped by the magic of Simon, and foolishly hailed him as “the divine power” (v. 10). How very much like our times! Masses are enslaved by astrology, witchcraft, occultism, satanism, and guru philosophers. Hungry for a way out of their sins, fears, and emptiness, they are easy prey for every religious con man, every false messiah, who comes with oily tongue and itching palm. Cards, charts, and crystal balls deceive and amaze them. The “kingdom of God” – the good news that God forgives and makes new in Jesus Christ – freed the Samaritans. They “believed” the gospel and were “baptized” into Christ (v. 12). Life was liberated from the ancient and futile thralldoms. The same deliverance takes place today wherever the Good News is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Second, the “kingdom of God” means satisfaction for the hungry (vv. 14-17). Forgiveness is not enough. The soul hungers for something – or Someone – within to cleanse and fill and satisfy, to make complete and to empower for Christian living. God’s answer to that hunger is the Holy Spirit. Peter and John came to Samaria, met Philip’s converts, and “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit … and they received the Holy Spirit” (vv. 15, 17). “Received” is the operative word here. The holy Spirit is God’s gift to believers’ hearts. He comes in response to prayer and faith.

Third, the “kingdom of God” means judgment upon the insincere (vv. 18-24). Simon the magician lusted for the power to convey the Spirit, and he tried to buy the ability from Peter. How evil he was, and how mistaken! Peter did not control the Spirit – the Spirit controlled him. Through Peter the Holy Spirit rebuked the sin of Simon and summoned him to repent. So abhorrent was the magician’s request that Peter seems to doubt whether pardon could be granted – “Perhaps he will forgive you” (v. 22). The incident stands as a warning to all who would try to make merchandise of God, who would exploit the gifts of God for selfish advantage. God reigns as Judge; and the insincere, who want to be part of the Christian movement for they can extort from it, will “perish” with their money unless they repent. God reigns through the Cross – that is “the good news of the kingdom of God.” He reigns, and therefore: Sins captives can be freed! Our hearts’ hunger can be satisfied! And the insincere will be judged!

Let’s pray: Father, You are full of compassion, I commit and commend myself unto You, in whom I am, and live, and know. May Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

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